Ontario Setting the Standard for Accessibility

You can play a part in creating an accessible Ontario   Whether it’s accessible routes and entrances into buildings, lower counter heights at cash registers, large print menus in restaurants or training for staff to serve customers with learning disabilities, you can help usher in a new era of accessibility in Ontario.
The Ontario government is now recruiting members for committees that will develop standards to improve accessibility under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).   The AODA is poised to make Ontario a world leader in improving accessibility for people with disabilities. Standards will make it possible for people with disabilities to participate fully in the social and economic life of the province.   The new act will see government working hand-in-hand with the disability community and the private and public sectors to jointly develop proposed standards to be achieved in stages of five years or less, leading to a fully accessible Ontario in 20 years. Standards will be set in both the public and private sectors to address the full range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, mental health, developmental and learning.    The first two standards development committees will be customer service and transportation.   Access to customer service, whether in the public or private sector, is essential to daily living for all people with disabilities. Accessible transportation is critical to daily living for people with disabilities so they can get to work, to school or to the doctor.   Members of the committees will include people with disabilities or their representatives, representatives of industries or sectors, government ministries, and professionals with relevant experience.   Recruiting is now open for the first two committees. The application deadline is November 10, 2005. Application deadlines for other committees will be announced in the future.  Additional information and application packages in alternate formats are available by calling 1-888-520-5828 or toll-free TTY 1-888-335-6611.


Education Wife Assault

  Presents the Third of a 4-part workshop series:   “Learning the Signs”
What to look for in Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

For Women with Disabilities
Facilitated By Women with Disabilities

Saturday November 12, 2005
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Centre for Independent Living in Toronto
205 Richmond St. W., (Richmond & Duncan)
Suite 605
Toronto, Ontario

Register Early, Space is Limited
$5.00 or Pay What You Can!

Please bring exact change if you can.

Refreshments will be provided.  ASL Interpreters, Computer
Note-taking, Attendant Care and Child Care Services can be provided on request.

To register, please contact Fran Odette by November 4, 2005.
Phone #: 416-968-3422. Ext: 30
TTY   #:  416-968-7335
E-mail: fodette@womanabuseprevention.com


Project Coordinator – ERDCO Leadership Project

Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO) is a non-profit consumer-run organization that works within an anti-racist framework. The coalition operates on the conviction that all people with disabilities want to be respected, live with dignity and enjoy full participation and citizenship.

We are looking for a highly motivated, creative and well-networked individual to coordinate a leadership engagement project for ethno racial people with disabilities.

The coordinator will be responsible for creating and implementing an outreach plan, coordinating, developing and co-facilitating leadership training modules, supporting the advisory committee, creating a speakers’ bureau and coordinating website enhancement activities including the set-up of a listserve as well as coordinating reporting to the Funder.
Qualifications:

• Experience working with ethno racial people with disabilities
• Demonstrated experience in outreach, leadership development and civic engagement
• A thorough understanding about anti-ablism, anti-racism, human rights, access and equity
• Strong research and report writing skills
• Project management experience
• Knowledge of leadership within disability and ethno racial communities
• Strong communication and interpersonal skills
• Proficiency in using MS Word

The successful applicant must be able to operate independently, and out of their own office space. This is a part time position, approx 20/hr week over six month period (December 2005 to May 2006).  Remuneration will be based on experience.

While we appreciate all responses, only candidates under consideration will be contacted. We kindly ask not to send in duplicate copies of your resume.
   
We encourage applicants from the etho racial disability community to apply.

Contact Information:

 ERDCO
 2 Carlton Street, Ste 500. Toronto, Ontario
 M5B 1J3
 416 657-2211
 www.ryerson.ca/erdco
Please email your resume by Friday Nov 4, 2005 to erdco_ca@yahoo.ca  No phone calls please.
This project is funded by the City of Toronto


Panellists Share Tips On Forging A Career In The Film And Television Industry At Abilities Festival

TORONTO—How well are people with disabilities represented in film, television and radio? Where are the opportunities for commissions or employment on air and behind the scenes? What does the future hold?   These are questions Kate Hanley has explored as President of WIFT-T (Women in Film and Television-Toronto). WIFT-T is a leading internationally affiliated industry organization that provides training and advances opportunities for women in screen-based media.

WIFT is also the publisher of Framework, an extensive study on the participation of members of the four target minorities in screen-based media, including one of the first detailed analyses of participation by people with disabilities.

On Sunday, October 30, from 10:30 to 11:30 AM, Hanley will join other panellists in Open Sesame! Forging a Career in the Industry. The panel will be held at the Columbus Room in the Columbus Centre, 901 Lawrence Avenue West (Lawrence & Dufferin).

Joining Hanley on the panel will be Silva Basmajian from the National Film Board. Connectus president Richard Cavanagh will talk about findings and recommenfdations from the recently released Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s Report on the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of  Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming, ACTRA diversity advocate Leesa Levinson, and Judy McAlpine, director at CBC Radio overseeing diversity strategy. CBC journalist and television/radio producer Ing Wong-Ward will moderate the discussion. 
         
Abilities Festival: A Celebration of Disability Arts and Culture is an international artistic and cultural event showcasing excellence and the talent, vision and passion of artists with disabilities.

Workshops and panels are free.   For more information, or to order tickets to Gala performances, please contact the Canadian Abilities Foundation at 416-966-0393 or Fireweed Media Productions at 416-410-2491 x3.

 


Ontario Setting the Standard for Accessibility

You can play a part in creating an accessible Ontario

Whether it’s accessible routes and entrances into buildings, lower counter heights at cash registers, large print menus in restaurants or training for staff to serve customers with learning disabilities, you can help usher in a new era of accessibility in Ontario.

The Ontario government is now recruiting members for committees that will develop standards to improve accessibility under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The AODA is poised to make Ontario a world leader in improving accessibility for people with disabilities. Standards will make it possible for people with disabilities to participate fully in the social and economic life of the province.

The new act will see government working hand-in-hand with the disability community and the private and public sectors to jointly develop proposed standards to be achieved in stages of five years or less, leading to a fully accessible Ontario in 20 years. Standards will be set in both the public and private sectors to address the full range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, mental health, developmental and learning.
The first two standards development committees will be customer service and transportation.

Access to customer service, whether in the public or private sector, is essential to daily living for all people with disabilities. Accessible transportation is critical to daily living for people with disabilities so they can get to work, to school or to the doctor.

Members of the committees will include people with disabilities or their representatives, representatives of industries or sectors, government ministries, and professionals with relevant experience.

Recruiting is now open for the first two committees. The application deadline is November 10, 2005. Application deadlines for other committees will be announced in the future.

Additional information and application packages in alternate formats are available by calling 1-888-520-5828 or toll-free TTY 1-888-335-6611.


Jazz Singer Shares Lessons Learned With Panellists At Abilities Festival

TORONTO—“I practiced a lot to get it together. And you know, over the years there was a lot of sweat equity that went into this; it didn’t happen overnight. I want to be singin’ til I’m eighty.” (Society for Disability Arts and Culture, 2002)

Award-winning jazz singer Joe Coughlin lives by this philosophy. He can croon with the legendary pop vocalists, and people who have heard him sing often compare him with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

He has released five CDs, and has sung professionally for nearly 30 years. Coughlin, who was born with a disability, has also hosted TV programs Challenge Journal and The Disability Network. He has been involved in issues concerning people with disabilities since the 1970s.

On Saturday, October 29, from 2:15 to 3:30 PM, Coughlin will share with other panellists the lessons he has learned as an independent living advocate and consumer with a disability, as part of the Abilities Festival. The panel will be held at the Atrium in the Columbus Centre, 901 Lawrence Avenue West (Lawrence & Dufferin).

Other panellists include: comedian David Roche, visual artist Sandy Brand, actor Rick Howland and author Jean Little. Toronto journalist and researcher Barbara Turnbull will moderate the discussion. People who have attended David Roche’s writing workshop in the morning will want to hear how Barbara Turnbull and Jean Little have applied their writing talents to two very different professions.

Abilities Festival: A Celebration of Disability Arts and Culture is an international artistic and cultural event showcasing excellence and the talent, vision and passion of artists with disabilities.

Workshops and panels are free.

For more information, or to order tickets to Gala performances, please contact the Canadian Abilities Foundation at 416-966-0393 or Fireweed Media Productions at 416-410-2491 x3.


Workplace Essential Skills Partnership (WESP)

The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), in collaboration with The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), is pleased and excited to present the Workplace Essential Skills Partnership (WESP). The WESP is an employment program designed to provide job seekers with disabilities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) the opportunity to enhance their employability in preparation for a variety of labour market sectors.   The WESP includes a continuous intake and assessment process along with an intensive six-week employment enhancement program offered four times during the year. The WESP is designed using the model of the highly successful Skills Training Partnership (STP) Program, a pre-employment program for persons with disabilities that has a proven track record of success in other parts of Canada, (For more information on the STP pre-employment model refer to www.ccrw.org ).
The CCRW Job Accommodation Service (JAS™) will provide employment accommodation consultation and assessment to all employers that hire a WESP participant. Follow-up will be conducted to secure participant and employer satisfaction and to further entrench a commitment to the proper accommodation of new employees with disabilities throughout the program.   All classes will be facilitated at the state-of-the-art CNIB Centre located at 1929 Bayview Avenue.  A WESP Vocational Coordinator will be permanently located at the CNIB. 
 
Accessing the Workplace Essential Skills Partnership – The WESP is available in the Greater Toronto Area to job seekers with cross-disabilities and can be accessed through these methods:   Online: Primarily through the CCRW’s employment portal WORKink at www.workink.com, through the CCRW website at www.ccrw.org, or through the CNIB website at www.cnib.ca.   Via Telephone: By contacting WESP staff at the CCRW head office in Toronto at 416-260-3060 (See contacts listed below) or the WESP Vocational Coordinator at the CNIB at 416-486-2500 ext 8237.   Through community service providers: By contacting your local community service provider for persons with disabilities and asking to be referred to the WESP.   Session Dates: There are three session start dates:
1. October 24, 2005 – December 16, 2005
2. January 16, 2006 – March 10, 2006
3. April 3, 2006 – May 12, 2006 4. May 29, 2006 – July 7, 2006
 


Dane fights for state-funded sex

  A disabled Danish man is fighting for the state to pay for him to have a prostitute visit him at home.
Torben Hansen, who has cerebral palsy, which severely affects his speech and mobility, believes his local authority should pay the extra charge he incurs when he hires a sex worker – because his disability means he cannot go to see them. His case is currently being considered.
In Denmark, local authorities compensate disabled people for extra costs incurred because of their disability.
“I want them to cover the extra expenses for the prostitutes to get here, because it’s a lot more expensive getting them to come to my home rather than me going to a brothel,” Mr Hansen told BBC World Service’s Outlook programme.
“It’s a necessity for me. I can’t move very well, and it’s impossible for me to go there.”
‘Unfair’
In Denmark, prostitution and other forms of sex work are not illegal so long as it is not a woman’s sole means of income.
Mr Hansen started seeing a prostitute after attending a course at a social centre.
There, he and other disabled people were taught that if they had needs, they “could do something about it”.
“I had a strong desire to have sex, and I think I gained the confidence around that time to get the call girls to come to me.
“Since then I’ve had a lot of escort girls coming to see me – but I’ve also had girlfriends.”
He had been with his last girlfriend for six months, but she died in 2003. After that, Mr Hansen began arranging for visits to begin again.
He also said there had been “much research” into people in his situation, and that it had showed that not being sexually fulfilled can lead to “frustration and aggression”.
“It’s unfair to deny people with disabilities the right to a sex life,” he added.
Mr Hansen said the reaction to his campaign had been “very mixed.”
“Most of it’s been positive, but I’ve read some very angry letters and comments in the papers… a lot of politicians have been critical, especially women politicians against prostitution.”
Kristen Brosboel, a Social Democrat member of the Danish Parliament, is among those who have argued against Mr Hansen.
“Obviously I recognise that he has a problem that people without a disability may not have – but I disagree with the fact that we should support his visits with a prostitute with tax money,” she told Outlook.
“We also spend tax money on trying to prevent prostitution, helping women out of prostitution – and we have a clear policy that this is a social problem that we want to solve.
“So I think that’s very much in contradiction with spending tax money on requiring prostitutes.”   © 2005 BBC News    


Suing for the Right to Live

Two cases of European doctors refusing to treat their patients are cause for concern: Futile Care Theory may be coming to America.
by Wesley J. Smith   Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and the Culture.

03/11/2004 12:00:00 AM   A LITTLE NOTICED LITIGATION in the United Kingdom could be a harbinger of medical woes to come here in the United States. Leslie Burke, age 44, is suing for the right to stay alive. Yes, you read right: Burke, who has a terminal neurological disease, is deathly afraid that doctors will refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube.
Burke’ fears are, quite rationally, based on current international legal and bioethical trends. Futile Care Theory, the bioethical maxim that gives doctors the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment based on their perception of the quality of their patient’s life, has imbedded itself like barbed hook into British medical ethics and law. Indeed, current British Medical Association ethical guidelines permit doctors to stop tube-supplied nutrition and hydration if they believe the patient’s quality of life is poor, leading to eventual death. In such cases, patients’ or relatives’ views on the matter must succumb to the medical and bioethical consensus.
Making matters worse for Burke, British courts previously stamped their imprimatur upon Futile Care Theory, bringing with it the terrifying prospect that Burke will be denied wanted life-sustaining treatment. Indeed, a previous lawsuit involving a disabled child already granted doctors the final say as to whether the boy lives or is abandoned to death through the denial of resuscitating treatment.
The case involved David Glass, who in 1998 at age 12 suffered respiratory failure. His parents rushed him to St. Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth, only to have doctors refuse to save his life. Not only that, they sought to inject David with a palliative agent that would have further suppressed his respiration. Their reasoning: David’s profound development and physical disabilities made his life not worth living.
Amazingly, David’s folks were able to resuscitate him after the doctors turned their backs. Then, outraged at the medical discrimination imposed against their son, they sued to prevent doctors from refusing to save David again if he suffers another medical emergency. But the unrepentant doctors fought back, one testifying that he objected to the parents’ resuscitative actions because they had “prevented him from dying.”
Clearly, the issue in the case wasn’t whether David’s life was beyond saving but whether it was worth saving. Shockingly, the trial and appellate courts supported the doctors, ruling that in the United Kingdom, doctors–not patients or parents–have the final say as to who should live and who should die. And if Burke loses his case, it will mean that competent patients in Britain who opt in advance for life-sustaining treatment in the event of future incapacitation, cannot be confident that their desires will be respected.   LEST YOU STRETCH, yawn, and think that Burke’s fears have little relevance here, the dark shadow of Futile Care Theory has already reached our shores. Throughout the country, hospital and nursing home bioethics committees have begun to quietly promulgate procedural protocols that allow them to impose Futile Care Theory on America’s most defenseless and helpless patients.These “medical futility” or “inappropriate care” guidelines establish internal bureaucratic procedures that generally work something like this: * In the event of a dispute over providing wanted life-sustaining treatment, the matter will first be discussed informally among bioethics, chaplains, social workers, doctors, family, and patient (if capable)
* If the dispute cannot be resolved informally, it will be brought to the hospital bioethics committee or other body established for “adjudication.”
* The committee hears from the doctors, family, bioethics experts, and others. If the committee rules that the treatment is not to be provided, the patient will be denied all further treatment in the hospital, other than comfort care–this, even if the family finds a doctor willing to provide the desired services.
* At that point, patients and their families have three options: (1) Acquiesce, meaning that the patient probably dies. (2) Find another hospital–a daunting if not impossible task given that the patients who would be refused care under futility protocols would usually be the most expensive to care for and thus, given the economics of managed care, probably unwelcome in another institution. (3) They could sue.
A primary reason bioethicists have created futility protocols is to stack the deck against such patient/family lawsuits. Indeed, as one Futile Care Theory apologia published in the Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics in 2001 put it, “Hospitals are likely to find the legal system willing (and even eager) to defer to well-defined and procedurally scrupulous processes for internal resolutions of futility disputes.” In other words, bioethicists and hospital lawyers plan to say to the judge, “Our futility protocol has already been agreed to by the experts. It represents the standard of care. Who are you, a mere lawyer after all, to tell us how to practice medicine?” Given that the courts increasingly reflect the views of the elites rather than the people, this tactic seems a good bet to succeed.   WEAK AND VULNERABLE PATIENTS in the United Kingdom are having a duty to die imposed upon them by medical ethicists and the courts’ approval of Futile Care Theory. The same game is now afoot here. Bioethicists are getting their futility procedural ducks in a row to persuade the courts to permit them to impose their values on the patients and families of America. And lest you believe that U.S. courts would never allow the medical intelligentsia to impose Futile Care Theory on Americans, remember this: The United States Supreme Court now looks to European courts for precedent and guidance on how to decide cutting-edge legal and cultural issues. This means that the Burke and Glass cases could eventually become the justifications used by U.S. courts to deny you or someone you love, wanted life sustaining medical care.  


Not Dead Yet Challenges Assisted Suicide Case At Supreme Court

Members of the national disability rights group, Not Dead Yet, will rally Oct. 5 in Washington as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral argument in two major disability rights cases this term.
The high court will hear argument in an assisted suicide case, Gonzales v. Oregon, and in a case regarding the burden of proof in education, Schaffer v. Weast.
Not Dead Yet is based in Forest Park, IL. It organizes and leads other disability organizations in opposing legalization of assisted suicide, euthanasia and other forms of medical killing. More details on the Washington rally can be found at their website, www.notdeadyet.org
The group joined with other disability rights groups from across the nation in opposing the court rulings in the Terri Schiavo case, filing amicus curiae briefs and testifying before hearings regarding heath care issues.
Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet testified before the subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources of the Committee on Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year and said that the prevalent prejudice that no one would want to live like Terri Schiavo transferred into her guardian’s unfettered right to treat her at best as a prisoner suggests that the Schiavo case may be the “tip of a very large and almost fully submerged iceberg.
The far right wants to kill people with disabilities “slowly and painfully by cutting the things we need to live such as health care, public housing and transportation”, Coleman told the subcommittee of the federal House during an oversight hearing on federal health programs, while “the far left wants to kill us quickly and call it compassion, while also saving money for others perhaps deemed more worthy”.
Terri Schiavo, 41,severely incapacitated and brain damaged, died March 31 at a Pinellas Park, Florida hospice 13 days after her estranged husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, was ordered by the court to remove her assisted feeding. Her husband had petitioned the court for permission to kill her because he said she had no hope for recovery and she would not want to be kept alive by assisted feeding. She had left no living will.
Her parents, Mary and Robert Schindler Sr., contested their son-in-law’s efforts to kill their daughter, saying that she was not in a persistent vegetative state as the judge had determined and removing her nutrition and hydration would be against her religious beliefs and upbringing.
Coleman, who has a juris doctorate and masters in business administration from the University of California at Los Angeles, is the executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park, Ill. a non-profit nonresidential service and advocacy center operated by and for people with disabilities. She is a member of the California bar, currently on inactive status. During the past 20 years, she has been employed first as an attorney for the State of California, then as co-director of an assistive technology center in Nashville, Tenn.
In commenting on the results of the Schiavo autopsy, NDY said the findings left the central issues in her life and death unanswered. For example, contrary to articles stating the autopsy report “supported” the diagnosis of “persistent vegetative state (PVS),” a neuropathology expert was careful to say that PVS is a clinical diagnosis rather than a pathological one.
“The real elephant in the living room, of course, is whether or not we can really know how conscious anyone labeled “PVS” really is”, Colesman said. Several studies have revealed high misdiagnosis rates, with conscious people being mistakenly regarded as totally and irrevocably unaware.
The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage “irreversible.”
This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability.
“It’s always seemed to us that PVS isn’t really a diagnosis; it’s a value judgment masquerading as a diagnosis,” said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet. “When it comes to the hard science, no qualified pathologist went on the record saying she couldn’t think or couldn’t experience her own death through dehydration.” Coleman agreed. “The core issues remain the same. Protection of the life and dignity of people under guardianship, and a high standard of proof in removing food and water from a person who can not express their own wishes. These are issues of great concern to the disability community – evidenced by the 26 national disability groups that spoke out in favor of saving Terri Schiavo’s life over the past few years.”
In the Gonzalez v. Oregon case, the Oregon “Death With Dignity Act” has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Controlled Substances Act, asserting that federal law prohibits physicians from prescribing controlled substances for assisted suicide, on the grounds that it is not a “legitimate medical purpose” for their usage. The District and Circuit Courts have upheld the Oregon law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. The legal issues pertain to the respective roles of federal and state government. Oral argument is scheduled for Oct. 5.
Not Dead Yet has filed an amicus curiae brief in the case along with other disability rights groups including, ADAPT, Center on Disability Studies, Law and Human Policy at Syracuse University, Center for Self-Determination, Hospice Patients Alliance, Mouth Magazine/Freedom Clearinghouse, National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, TASH and the World Institute on Disability.
In the brief, disability rights attorney Max Lapertosa wrote:
Amici support the Attorney General’s interpretive ruling that assisted suicide is not a “legitimate medical practice” under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. ßß 801-971. . . . . . . If a state overtly excluded people with “terminal” disabilities from suicide prevention laws and programs, it would undoubtedly violate federal civil rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. . .. Yet that is precisely the design and effect of the Oregon assisted-suicide law. A more devastating form of discrimination would be difficult to imagine. By assuming that it is irrational for a non-disabled person to end his or her life, but rational for a disabled person to do so, the law assumes that the non-disabled person’s life is intrinsically more valuable and worthwhile than that of a disabled person.
Assisted suicide also raises serious ethical concerns regarding the medical profession’s treatment of the disabled. It requires doctors to make difficult, if not impossible, determinations of a person’s competency and life expectancy, the consequences of which are both ultimate and irreversible. The availability of assisted suicide also distracts from the determination whether a person’s desire to die might be lifted with improved treatment, community-based health care or other measures that improve a person’s independence and dignity. . . .
The Court of Appeals avoided this analysis by holding that the Attorney General’s directive on prescriptions for assisted suicide “interferes with Oregon’s authority to regulate medical care within its borders” . . . If any federal restriction on the practice of medicine infringed upon a “fundamental” state function, it would call into question Congress’ entire regulatory scheme for prescription medication, which has been in effect for three decades and has been repeatedly upheld and enforced. . . . Indeed, it is difficult to understand how the practice of medicine could be considered solely a state function . . .
The Court of Appeal’s holding is of significant concern to amici beyond its implications for assisted suicide. Congress and federal agencies often regulate “medical care” to prevent abuse of or discrimination against people with disabilities. . . .For example, in Olmstead, this Court held that the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities by states was discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although Title II’s definition of discrimination did not explicitly identify unnecessary institutionalization, the Court relied in part upon the Attorney General’s regulations and interpretations of the Act in discerning Congress’ intent. . . . Although this interfered with a “medical” decision approved under state law (and carried out by the State itself), it was nevertheless understood as appropriate federal action.
According to NDY, many people who favor legalization of assisted suicide object to the involvement of disability rights organizations in the public debate. After all, they say, assisted suicide is about terminal illness, not disability.
The disability experience is that people who are labeled “terminal,” based on a medical prediction that they will die within six months, are — or almost inevitably will become — disabled. Furthermore, virtually all “end-of-life care” issues — access to competent health care, adequate pain relief, in-home personal care and flexible, consumer-responsive supports, peer counseling, family support — have been disability rights issues for decades.
In fact, although intractable pain has often been given as the primary reason for enacting assisted suicide laws, the reasons doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the patient’s “loss of autonomy” and “feelings of being a burden.” These feelings arise when a person acquires physical impairments that necessitate relying on other people for help in tasks and activities formerly carried out alone. Studies of attitudes of terminally ill people toward assisted suicide and euthanasia confirm that interest in physician-assisted suicide appeared to be more a function of psychological distress and social factors than physical factors.
It should be noted that suicide, as a solitary act, is not illegal in any state. Disability concerns are focused on the systemic implications of adding assisted suicide to the list of “medical treatment options” available to seriously ill and disabled people.
NDY points out that the Oregon Law grants civil and criminal immunity to physicians providing lethal prescriptions based on a stated claim of “good faith” belief that the person was terminal, acting voluntarily, and that other statutory criteria were met. This is the lowest culpability standard possible, even below that of “negligence,” which is the minimum standard governing other physician duties. As the Oregon Reports on physician-assisted suicide make clear, the state has not been able to assess the extent of non-reporting or noncompliance with the law’s purported safeguards. There are no enforcement provisions in the law, and the reports themselves demonstrate that non-terminal people are receiving lethal prescriptions.
More disturbingly, the reasons doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the patient’s “loss of autonomy” (87 percent), “loss of dignity” (80 percent), and “feelings of being a burden” (36 percent). People with disabilities are concerned that these psycho-social factors are being widely accepted as sufficient justification for assisted suicide, with most physicians not even asking for a psychological consultation (5 percent in 2004, 16 percent overall or the intervention of a social worker familiar with home and community-based services that might alleviate these feelings. The societal message is “so what?” or “who cares?” Recent government reports rank Oregon highest in the nation in elder suicide.
“The Oregon law is not about individual choice but rather physician judgments”, NDY says. “Studies consistently demonstrate that physicians and other health care providers rate the quality of life of people with significant disabilities and illnesses significantly below the individual’s rating of their own quality of life. The Oregon law gives physicians the power to judge whether a particular suicide is “rational” or not based on his or her prejudicial devaluation of the individual’s quality of life, and then to actively assist certain suicides based on that judgment. This should be viewed as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. That is the core of the disability argument in the Gonzales v. Oregon case” 9-28-05   © 2005 North Country Gazette