With the movie, “Me Before You” coming out, the topic of assisted suicide seems appropriate. I remember the first time I saw the actual list of Dr. Kevorkian’s patients and their ailments. We assume every patient was terminal, but in fact, two-thirds of the people he helped die had disabilities and were not terminally ill. As I sat there in my wheelchair, I scanned over the reasons and was blown away by the fact that there were quadriplegics, and I was even more shocked to see paraplegics. I was an arrogant, new spinal cord injury who was enraged that someone would give up on life because of the exact same ailment as myself. I felt anger that I was a qualifying patient just by being a spinal cord injury, but it was more that society supported that position. In some states, if an abled-bodied individual expresses a desire to commit suicide they are subject to a non-voluntary 3-day hold at a psych ward. You can read more about assisted suicide laws here. If a person with a spinal cord injury expresses a desire to commit suicide, everyone understands. Why is it that disabled life is less precious? It shouldn’t be easier and cheaper to kill yourself than to acquire a new wheelchair, but that’s often the case.
In my childhood, I went to a Missionary Baptist Church that was completely against any type of “murder” whether it be compassion killings or abortions, in God’s eyes it was all the same. Therefore, I grew up analogizing Hitler, who killed off people with disabilities without their consent, and Dr. Kevorkian, who was helping patients who begged for death and made that choice for themselves.
There are so many arguments for and against, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have an argument ready. Instead, this should be an open discussion. This isn’t your average political debate that deals with taxes; this is literally life and death. This topic needs to be met with compassion and understanding. Therefore, I urge you to consider that when commenting.
I’ll be honest; I’m not against assisted suicide. In fact, I’ll be very transparent and say I’ve even considered it myself. I believe a majority of spinal cord injuries (at least the ones who rely on care) have had passing thoughts. According to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), available statistics show that pain is rarely the reason why people choose assisted suicide. Most people do so because they fear burdening their families or becoming disabled or dependent. So many people do not have the opportunities they need to be independent and see the truth of their worth.
A number of the factors that are considered to be important in evaluating suicide potential such as social inclusion, financial stability and freedom of mobility consistently present challenges for people with disabilities. Suicide rates are much higher among people with spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis than in the general population.disabled-world.com
What got me past that? My support system and the fact I feel wanted. That people depend on me, that I contribute, that I am worth something. Knowing it would devastate the ones around me who have supported me every step and feeling wanted has kept me from going down that path. If I didn’t have my support system, I don’t know if I would still be here. I can tell you now; I was wrong when I judged those people, but I was also wrong when I thought suicide was the correct path for me. It’s evident we aren’t providing the emotional support so many need. There’s too much to live for. While many believe it’s hard to replace the emotional support of a personal network of family and friends, several organizations have done their best to create online platforms where those with spinal cord injuries can seek support. For instance, the Spinal Cord Network has a forum featuring a variety of emotional support resources and even a chat room for people to connect. Other informal resources include mental health communities such as 7 Cups of Tea, which offers trained ‘listeners’ who specialize in disability issues.
Ironically, I find that one vital point missing from the usual “euthanasia” argument is that of the support system. For the sake of this article let’s just discuss assisted suicide for spinal cord injuries specifically. I wonder why those spinal cord injuries opted for Dr. Kevorkian’s assistance. Was it pain? Sadness? Depression? Many spinal cord injuries struggle with depression. If assisted suicide were to be offered to someone with an SCI, I would urge the medical board to require counseling services and a support team of volunteers and professionals well versed in SCI, who would still be available should you choose to opt out of suicide.
Unfortunately, we as a country continue to fail in offering emotional support. The Government thinks your tiny monthly disability check is enough. They continue to cut funding for psychiatric services, and in some cases insurance has made it nearly impossible for someone to afford much-needed counseling services. When I’m sad and hurting, I need love and encouragement, as we all do. The question is how can we offer the help needed effectively to all? Would we curb suicide with education and counseling? Maybe. If you ask me, life is precious, so we should take every step to ensure the person opting for assisted suicide is making the right choice. I know some of you are thinking that suicide is never the right choice, and you’re entitled to your position.
I urge you not to do what I did and be blinded by other’s opinions and narcissistic in thought but instead form your own based on compassion, understanding, and love. If you are considering suicide, please consider your pain may be emotional pain that can heal, and not the physical pain you are stuck with. Also, there are many forms of pain therapy available. That being said, I don’t want a stranger telling me how to live. Therefore, I’m not going to tell a stranger suffering how to live. Instead, I’d like to inspire other injuries to improve their quality of life through your own actions.
Additional Reading and Resources:
United Spinal Association
State resource pages include United Spinal Association Chapters, local SCI/D support groups. Model System and CARF-accredited rehab facilities, Centers for Independent Living, State programs and much more!
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