Suicide among the elderly and in the disabled community is a serious problem. Chronic pain, depression and isolation are especially prevalent among those groups – these risk factors lead to suicide.
At the first onset of disability, everyone goes through a very difficult, often suicidal, period – for many it is akin to bereavement. For example, a 25 year old rugby player that becomes a tetraplegic can take years to adjust to their new lifestyle.
Further, disabled people and the elderly are vulnerable. Without full command of movement or speech, it is very difficult to have any control over medical procedures. Actions as simple as being turned over onto your good side can become a nightmarish procedure.
Those without money, literacy or social connections are the most vulnerable. This tragic social context of suicide, isolation and vulnerability provides the environment surrounding David Seymour’s ‘End of Life Choice Bill’.
The Bill provides that euthanasia should be legal where a patient has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, is in an advanced state of irreversible decline and perceives that their suffering is unbearable. These provisions are vague.
Although David Seymour has argued that these provisions can be narrowly interpreted, he will not be the one enforcing the act – there won’t be a ‘Dying with Seymour’ hotline. Doctors and courts will be the ones working with this law. There is absolutely nothing preventing them from taking a broader and arguably more reasonable interpretation of the imprecise terms – a definition that would include most elderly and disabled people.
The End of Life Choice Bill highlights society’s distorted view of disabled people. When a young person is suicidal, they immediately receive wrap around support in an attempt to help them fight to keep their life. However, when a disabled or elderly person wishes to take their own life, this Bill will help them do it. In effect, it creates a killable category of people.
The message of the Bill to disabled and elderly people is that if you don’t possess the same quality of life as ‘normal’ people, your life is somehow less worthy of protection. For you, suicide is categorised separately. Sometimes it is even described as noble. This is discriminatory.
Elderly and disabled people are fighting for an equal standing in society. Now this. How long will it take for society to ensure effective protection of its most vulnerable? Let’s oppose this Bill and work towards ensuring the safety of those with of us who are elderly or disabled.
This post is a summary of a talk delivered by Dr John Fox to ProLife Auckland on 21 May 2018. He is the trustee of Elevate Christian Disability Trust a grassroots network that provides support for disabled people throughout New Zealand.