In the news over the weekend, a young man – Daniel James – who became paralysed through a rugby accident, and opted to go to Switzerland, with the help of his parents, for an assisted suicide, because he felt that he couldn’t live with his new physical circumstances.
Suicide can often feel like the failure of a society to help an individual, but it should also be a matter of self-determination. We may not agree that to live with an impairment is not the end of life but a set of new challenges. We may feel that sometimes the lack of access and support we have as disabled people does make our lives second-class in many areas where it should not. One thing we should certainly agree upon as disabled people is the right to be treated equally, and the right to make decisions over our lives.
In our country suicide is not illegal, but helping someone to commit suicide is.
If a person, due to their impairment, needs support and help with their day to day living – for example because they cannot feed themselves, or manage their medication, does it not therefore follow that they may need assistance with dying? If you want to commit suicide, but are not physically capable because of impairment – should you not have the right to get someone to help you? To deny this right is to assert lesser rights for disabled people.
Clearly this is a murky area in which to frame law, as giving non-disabled people rights to assistance in the suicide of disabled people could be abused – which is why an assisted suicide centre seems like a good idea.
And difficulties in framing a law, should not preclude efforts to do so.
You may find suicide distasteful or against your beliefs, but the law as it stands clearly discriminates against many disabled people’s right to self-determination.