Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill: the Death Toll for the Poor & Disabled

Picture1.pngDespite what politicians claim, most opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide is not rooted in religious ideology – it’s rooted in opposition to the legalisation of killing, and the inability to provide sufficient safeguards to ensure society’s most vulnerable are not put at risk.

A few weeks ago, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 was introduced into Legislative Assembly, as part of NSW and Victoria’s attempts to legalise assisted suicide in their respective states. 

While the Voluntary Assisted Dying Ministerial Panel and Daniel Andrews enthusiastically emphasise the bill’s various ‘recommendations’ and ‘safeguards’, the majority of Australians aren’t falling for the façade.

In Massachusetts, where legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide is being considered, it’s all too apparent that economic and political dangers are prioritised. According to Representative Denise Provost:

“People with disabilities, those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, could easily be pushed to choose premature death as their options narrow.”

John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts, also shared similar concerns:  

“Because of misdiagnosis, abuse, insurers’ bottom line, suicidal despair, people’s guilt and coercion and abuse, these kinds of bills are very dangerous for everyone in the state. Innocent people will lose their lives if these bills become law,” Kelly said. 

With such insufficient government funding for our healthcare system, the assisted suicide bill is the fox guarding the henhouse. Both the poor and the disabled rely on the system in order to obtain the necessary resources and treatments which they cannot afford on their own. Under the assisted suicide bill, logic would dictate that ‘disposing’ of these citizens would cut back on spending for palliative care ­– a dream for money-hungry government officials.   

[O]pponents of the measure find no comfort in that assurance. Even if safeguards exist for terminally ill individuals, they argue, disabled patients represent a vulnerable demographic that could, in the future, be targeted both by a contracting health care system and by insurance companies worried about controlling costs and unwilling to pay for expensive care.

Overblown? Recent cases would prove otherwise: the advisory panel themselves brought up the case of 43-year-old Tina, born with cerebral palsy, who was recently diagnosed with advanced cancer and ran out of treatment options. Her story shows how euthanasia and assisted suicide are not “choices” for the disabled and the terminally sick – they are threats to their lives: 

The panel felt that Tina should be offered euthanasia because her request was “voluntary and enduring”.

If Tina has aggressive cancer there is a very good chance that she couldn’t even get a proper medical exam or the kinds of screening recommended for women her age. She probably couldn’t even find a clinician with the time and capacity to communicate with her. 

In the real world someone like Tina is also very unlikely to have a job and to be able to afford private health insurance or even find the informal supports that other people could call on following a life-changing health diagnosis. As a woman with disability she’s also far more likely to be facing various forms of violence or abuse that make life seem intolerable. 

Choice? What a joke.

Sitting in Tina’s wheels, people with disability are entitled to ask members of parliament: why are you hurrying to grant us the “choice” to die when you never lifted a finger to fix the barriers that made our lives miserable or gave us equal access to preventative health?

How can there be ‘safeguards’ on a system bent on eradicating those dependent on it?

For the poor or disabled, the idea that assisted suicide is a ‘choice’ is a cruel delusion. Once they are cut off from higher level resources and left to play tug-of-war with politicians to achieve basic treatment, assisted suicide is often the only path left to them.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are the farthest thing from a “choice” – they are coercion tools for death. There is only one choice: assisted suicide and euthanasia must be completely rejected. Euthanasia and assisted suicide don’t only threaten the lives of the disabled and terminally ill – they threaten ALL lives.

We can do better. We can live without euthanasia and assisted suicide.