On December 17th, ASAN member Kate Ryan delivered the following testimony against H. 1998, legislation designed to legalize physician assisted suicide in the State of Massachusetts:
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, ASAN, is against physician-assisted suicide and specifically, H 1998. We believe that both the practice and the bill discriminates heavily against those with physical and developmental disabilities. In the interest of ensuring for everyone the rights of communication and self-determination, ASAN works to change public perceptions of autism and to dispel old myths and stereotypes that have led to discrimination and abuse. One of these myths is that people with severe disabilities cannot have a very high quality of life. We disagree with this and think that everyone has the right to be happy and lead a joyous, fulfilling life, no matter what their disability is.
If the only alternative to death offered to those who require assistance is poverty and segregation, we are not providing people with meaningful choices. Seniors and disabled Americans who require assistance in activities of daily living must often spend their assets and limit their income in order to qualify for the Medicaid coverage which will pay for their long-term services and support needs. Once they qualify, this enforced poverty is compounded by rules that make it difficult, if not impossible, to get services in the community, forcing hundreds of thousands into nursing homes and institutions, where loss of autonomy is a given. This, not illness, is why people make the choice to die.
Physician-assisted suicide could very easily lead to people with disabilities being coerced into choosing the simpler, cheaper option of death over life. Autistic children and adults often are targets of abuse and bullying. A main goal of many behavioral therapies that Autistic adults and children are forced to undergo is to get Autistic people to be compliant and obey orders. As a result, many Autistic adults are in the habit of going along with whatever their doctors, therapists, and guardians feel is right. To have a law where a doctor or an heir can have the power of life or death over a person is not just inane, it is criminal. ASAN believes that having a disability is not a tragedy or a misfortune, and that society plays a large part in determining whether an individual is disabled or not. If you pass this law, you will be putting the power of who lives and who dies out of the individual’s hands and into that of an unscrupulous society, who do not think that we have lives worth living. We say we do, and we say to please vote against this bill.