Disability Rights Advocates Move to Intervene in
Assisted Suicide Case
Hartford - The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA) filed a motion in Superior Court today to intervene in a recently filed lawsuit about assisted suicide. The underlying suit, Blick v. Division of Criminal Justice, was initiated by two physicians who are represented by local counsel and by lawyers from Compassion and Choices, a successor organization to the Hemlock Society. The two doctors seek a ruling protecting them from prosecution for prescribing lethal doses of drugs to patients whom they judge to be terminally ill and who ask for the drugs in order to commit suicide. OPA is joined in the motion by two well known Connecticut advocates, Catherine D. Ludlum of Manchester, and Claude Holcomb of Hartford.
The advocates are asking to intervene in order to ensure that the disability perspective is represented in the case. In its brief, OPA describes widespread opposition to physician assisted suicide amongst national disability groups - opposition that is based in two realities deeply rooted in the disability experience: 1) the very human feelings of despondency and hopelessness that can sometimes overwhelm a person who is adjusting to loss or who grows discouraged by an inability to find the supports needed to live autonomously outside of an institutional environment; and, 2) presumptions and unconscious prejudice on the part of some health care professionals, including physicians, about quality of life and distinctions between disability and “incurable disease”.
The brief cites a number of cases where OPA has had to take action to defend the lives of individuals with disabilities because physicians had agreed to withhold or withdraw medical supports, even though those individuals were not dying. In supporting affidavits, Ludlum and Holcomb also refer to experiences they have had interacting with health care professionals where their identities and personal histories were fundamentally misunderstood, they were perceived to be “suffering”, and medical decisions were based on erroneous assumptions about the quality of their lives. Both have been active in efforts to oppose legalization of assisted suicide.
“Legalizing physician-assisted suicide could easily prove to have deadly consequences for people with disabilities,” said James D. McGaughey, OPA’s Executive Director. He added: “This case also has profound implications for public policy. Experience in Europe and elsewhere demonstrates that if this practice is decriminalized, societal investment in options for genuinely compassionate end-of-life care slows down, and attempts to regulate its scope fail to prevent abuses. We have to worry too, that with all the current emphasis on controlling health care costs, physician assisted suicide could become an expectation for anyone perceived as a ‘burden’.”
The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities is an independent state agency charged with defending the civil rights of people with disabilities. Part of a nation-wide network of legally based disability advocacy organizations, OPA operates pursuant to both state and federal mandates.