Maryland Disability Rights Advocates Make Strong Showing In Hearing on Assisted Suicide Bill

Editor’s note. NRL News Today has written about Maryland’s proposed assisted suicide bill here and here. The following comes from the disability rights organization Not Dead Yet

Samanatha Crane

Samanatha Crane

On Tuesday, March 10, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee conducted a hearing on Senate Bill 676, which would legalize assisted suicide in the state of Maryland if passed.

Crosby King testified on behalf on Not Dead Yet.  Below is an excerpt of his written testimony. The full text is available here.

We already see innocent people feeling pressured and pushed towards assisted suicide for the sake of their family.  Last year in Oregon, 40% of assisted suicide users were reported as feeling like a burden on family and caregivers.

As proponents themselves admit, and as Oregon’s physician reporting form demonstrates, it is social factors that make up the suffering this bill talks about.  Doctors report people choosing suicide because of loss of dignity, loss of autonomy, feeling like a burden, and loss of control of bodily functions.

These reasons suggest a meaning of dignity that is fragile and easily lost through disability and dependence on others.  The people acting on these views, proponents admit, tend to be wealthier, better educated, and people with a strong preference for control.  This is presented as a good thing.

Assisted suicide proponents are also overwhelmingly white.  97.1% of program suicides in Oregon have been white, in a state 22% nonwhite.  The Pew Research Center found in 2013 that, while whites support assisted suicide 53%-44%, black and Latino voters register 65% opposition.  We have a public health problem, but it isn’t certain people’s lack of dignity, it’s the turn to suicide as a social solution by a powerful social class.  High rates of white suicide are already a social problem.

Samantha Crane, who is on the NDY Board of Directors, testified before the Committee on behalf of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network [ASAN] in her role as the Director of Public Policy of that organization. Below is an excerpt from her written testimony. The full text can be found here.

ASAN believes that physician-assisted suicide legislation like HB 1021 discriminates against people who are aging, ill, or disabled. During the course of its advocacy for people with disabilities, we repeatedly encounter attitudes that life with a disability – including not only developmental disability but also disability caused by age or illness – is “undignified” and that people with disabilities cannot live happy lives at home among their loved ones.

The belief that it is better to die than to depend on others for assistance is central to arguments in favor of so-called “death with dignity.” Much of the testimony you hear today will focus on the “indignity” of needing help to eat, move, or take medications. In Oregon, which passed nearly identical legislation, 93% of those who died from physician-assisted suicide in 2013 cited “loss of autonomy,” or disability, as a motivation. Less than 28% cited concerns about pain control.

Also testifying was Richard Davis, Director of Public for The Arc Maryland. Below is an excerpt from his testimony, with the full text available here.

The Arc Maryland’s concerns include lack of protections, historic discrimination in the medical field based on perceived ‘quality of life’ of persons with disabilities, and lack of treatment and other options for individuals with I/DD [Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities] (such as palliative care, suicide prevention, mental health services, support services, etc.). Our constituency is unduly vulnerable to coercion by trusted individuals and professionals.

The bill provides no guarantees that persons who are terminally ill (including those with and without I/DD) will have rights to access all available options, and there is no guarantee that once a person is given their diagnosis, that they will also have the right to access mental health care in order to process the grieving cycle that may take place before making a potentially life-ending decision.