On Wednesday January 6, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network joined Not Dead Yet and nine other disability rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief opposing physician-assisted suicide in New York. The brief, filed in a New York appeals court, supports a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit that sought to legalize assisted suicide in New York. The case is Myers v. Shneiderman.
The brief explains that physician-assisted suicide can put people with disabilities – including disabilities that result from an illness – at risk. Negative attitudes about disability often promote the idea that it is better to die than to need help with daily living. People with disabilities are vulnerable to isolation in institutional settings and abuse by caregivers, which can also lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness. People with high medical bills and who need daily supports may also worry about the financial impact of their disability or illness. Instead of improving the lives of people with disabilities and illnesses, physician-assisted suicide laws “solve” these problems by ending people’s lives.
“The attitude that death is better than life with a disability is very dangerous to autistic people,” said Samantha Crane, Legal and Public Policy Director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Not only can this lead to deaths by suicide, but also it can lead to murders by caregivers. We’ve also seen cases where doctors or guardians withheld necessary medical care because they believed that an autistic person had a low ‘quality of life’ or did not deserve to continue living.”
Also joining in the brief were ADAPT, the Center for Disability Rights, the National Council on Independent Living, the United Spinal Association, and several local disability rights organizations.