We see value in their lives, even if for the moment they don’t

By Dave Andrusko

Over the last two years I have read and re-read the following passage from Kevin Yuill over and over again. With us in the midst of the Winter Olympics it is especially timely in that Yuill was addressing a Paralympian who said she wanted to die.

He writes

It is existential pain, a fear of what the future will bring to an already uncertain existence, which drives people – disabled and non-disabled – to suicide. But if someone speaks of their desire to end it all, our common, human response must be to remind them that, even if they do not value their own life, and even if they see no hope in the future, we do. We must remind them that no situation is truly hopeless – other than, of course, death.

Quite a paragraph.

Yuill was attempting to counter not only the lure, the seduction, of “assisted dying”; not only the threat that this poses to people with physical and intellectual disabilities; but also the stake the rest of us have in people not “facilitating” their own deaths.

“Even if they do not value their own life”…

“Even if they see no hope in the future”…

“We do.”

So what can we say?

We value their lives…because

Because they simply are. None of us needs to meet an arbitrary standard of acceptability.

Because their death diminishes me. We are in this together.

Because their lives are of infinite value. Of all the points of departure, no fork in the road is more decisive than whether or not you believe each one of is irreplaceable.

Because we see hope in their futures…

Because of the disability rights community has issued the clarion call warning that they must not allow others to rob them of hope.

Because, as the disability rights community reminds us over and over, all of us are “one accident away” from living with a disability. Knowing that reminds me of the importance of offering whatever assistance we can. The more of us who extend a hand of support, the more reason there is for hope.

Because in the face of a well-financed campaign to change laws, a diverse coalition of disability rights organizations, medical associations, nurses’ groups, community leaders, right to life groups, hospice workers, and faith-based organizations has emerged to fight assisted suicide/”assisted dying.”

In 1624, in the midst of severe illness, John Donne wrote “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.” It contains these words that are no less powerful because they are so familiar:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”