When “disability” disappears and everyone is valued

A lot has been said in recent days, both pro and con, about the federal government’s bill on assisted dying. Just over a year ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Criminal Code provision prohibiting assisted dying was unconstitutional and gave the federal government one year to amend the law.

For what its worth, here’s my two cents worth on the effort to address the Supreme Court’s decision. I say the bill goes too far — much too far — in one particular regard.

Let me be clear. There’s no denying that many people suffering a variety of grievous medical conditions have the right to assisted dying, if that is their wish. But many of the people I’ve heard interviewed who want the right to assisted dying are living with neuromuscular conditions such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or MS. They apparently hold a strong belief that life is so difficult death is preferable. This is in stark contrast with someone like Stephen Hawking, who just gets on with his life.

So the question has to be asked: Must neuromuscular conditions have a negative impact on quality of life, or is the variable the amount of assistance available to that individual?

Morning levée ceremonies where nobility were dressed by their servants were not considered demeaning.

Assistance with daily living is a matter of perspective. For example, morning levée ceremonies where nobility were dressed by their servants were not considered demeaning.

Let me try illustrate my point here by addressing one of the chief complaints of those individuals in the media over the last few years claiming that the need to rely on others to assist with daily living, such as getting dressed or going to the washroom, is demeaning. So demeaning, in fact, it’s part of the reason death is preferred. Just 100 years ago or so European royalty would never think of “lowering themselves” by donning their own clothes — they had helpers to do it. So isn’t it really more about the way we reframe such needs?

Another chief concern of those with certain neuromuscular conditions demanding the right to assisted dying is “the burden” they place on family members. In these situations is the best fix really death? Surely a better solution is for society to step up to the plate and provide the support needed so these individuals aren’t an undue burden on anyone.

May I go one step further? There are a lot of first-rate studies with about the return to work of injured workers. When the injured worker genuinely believes she or he is needed back in the workplace by their co-workers and employer, there is a much faster and more successful rate of return to work.

Rather than offering assisted dying, perhaps a better and more humane response would be a requirement, provided the right supports are in place, that these individuals obtain employment! Before you dismiss the suggestion that the Sue Rodriguez’s of the world are capable of working or otherwise participating in their community, even as a volunteer, as being outlandish and over the top let me remind you of the fellow I referred to earlier — Stephen Hawking.

I have never talked with him so this is only conjecture, but from watching his interviews and learning about the film documenting his life I can’t understand what would prevent others in a similar situation from working as long as they had the necessary support. After all, don’t we agree that everyone has a skill or talent that would benefit their neighbourhood or community, rather than eliminating this person and thereby losing this unique attribute? Why not create an expectation along with better supports that would allow them to work or contribute?

If a gay youth becomes depressed because of the homophobia he or she experiences, we don’t offer assisted dying. We fight the root cause of the problem — homophobia. Likewise with people who experience racism. Yet when people with certain conditions who see their “disability” more than their capability, and become depressed due to a lack of support, the solution we offer is not adequate home health care and assistance, but instead assisted dying. This doesn’t make sense!

At the very least I hope I’ve succeeded in provoking you a bit today.

I look forward to the day when so-called disability has disappeared — not because everybody is now suddenly physically the same, but because everybody is considered so important and worthy that the necessary supports are in place to make it not just an option that they work or contribute, but a requirement.

This entry was posted in Canadian politics, equality, justice system, law and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.