Saturday, August 30, 2014

Disability Rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Disability Rights Groups Submit Friend-of-the-Court Brief in New Mexico Assisted Suicide Appeal

Bob Kafka of ADAPT
Bob Kafka of ADAPT
The Disability Rights group Not Dead Yet submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the New Mexico Attorney General’s appeal seeking to overturn a district court ruling that the New Mexico constitution contains a right to assisted suicide (Morris v. King, Case 33,630, Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico). Six other national disability rights organizations joined in the brief: ADAPT, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, and the United Spinal Association.
“Whether there is a constitutional right in New Mexico to physician-assisted suicide must be addressed and understood from the perspective of the only class of people who will be adversely affected and impacted were such a right to be found: people with disabilities,” states the AMICUS BRIEF OF DISABILITY RIGHTS AMICI.
“If the only alternative to death,” said Bob Kafka, an ADAPT organizer based in Austin, Texas, “that those in power offer people who require assistance is poverty and segregation in nursing facilities, then it makes no sense to talk about assisted suicide as a ‘choice’.”
The disability rights groups point out the direct discrimination that is often overlooked. Assisted suicide as a public policy is directed exclusively at people with disabilities; yet it is presented as a “choice” and a right that everyone would have. The public policy takes for granted that health and disability are legitimate reasons for suicide, yet that directly devalues the lives of people with disabilities who are still working for full inclusion in civic life.
In the environment of managed health care, the life-ending option becomes a money-maker for health insurance and a low-cost alternative that can benefit insurance companies at the expense of the lives of people with disabilities. The disability rights groups challenge the state of New Mexico to explain how the state can protect the rights of people with disabilities on one hand while depreciating disability on the other.
“As a person with a disability and a wheelchair-user, I’m proud that the disability community has overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of assisted suicide,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, California. “It’s a deadly mix with our broken, profit-driven health care system, where financial pressures already play far too great a role.”
Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet
Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet
“Our basic position is that when some people get suicide prevention while other people get suicide assistance, and the difference is the person’s age, disability or health status, that’s a problem,” said Not Dead Yet’s president and CEO, Diane Coleman. “It’s a problem of devaluation of people who are being told that others not only agree with their suicide, which is bad enough, but will even help them carry it out. It’s a deadly form of discrimination and, as our brief says, it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The Disability Rights Amici are represented by Lara Katz of Montgomery and Andrews in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Steve Gold, a nationally known disability rights attorney based in Philadelphia.