A Cornish councillor who said that he thought that disabled babies should be “put down” got re-elected in the local Council elections. He went on to compare disabled children to deformed lambs who are smashed against a wall.
In a cafe on Wednesday, a woman was talking to me about her friend who had gone blind. She thought it was a travesty that, unlike dogs and horses and rabbits, nobody would put her friend “to sleep”. Nobody should be expected to be able to live without vision. Nobody without vision could possibly have enough quality of life to justify maintaining them. The only kind move, apparently, would be to kill her friend.
In most cases, when somebody experiences suicidal depression, their friends, family and health professionals try to to give them hope, offer support and encourage them to rediscover the joy in their life. They may be offered anti-depressant medication, or mental health treatment, and people actively try to help them to live. Compare and contrast with when a disabled person feels suicidally depressed. Suddenly the tables are turned: they may be offered support, or their friends, family and doctors may instead support them to go to court in a bid to allow themselves to be killed. This has been happening in court this week.
The assumption with all three is huge: disabled lives are not worth living. This is also evidenced by a number of strangers who, over the past few years, have approached me with the express intention of telling me that if they ever became disabled they would instantly kill themselves. These microaggressions are tiring, depressing and full of negative assumptions.
Putting into legislation a rule that suicidal disabled people can legitimately be killed instead of treated for their depression is a really frightening prospect. If someone feels their life is unbearable because of indignity or uncontrolled pain then the first line of attack must be dignity and pain management. Not, “Oh she’s disabled? Let’s not dissuade her from killing herself – in fact, let’s help her along”.
I don’t see anyone fighting for the rights of non-disabled people to be killed when they feel suicidal, even if they face unbearable racism or sexism or *anything*ism in their daily lives. If a non-disabled friend is suicidal I really try to help them to see a way through it, and I do the same for disabled friends. I don’t see anyone being elected after advocating the death of gay children because their lives will be difficult, nor do I hear women in cafes tell me that their working class friends should be put down because their lives will always be harder than their richer friends’. And this is not about oppression Olympics, it is about the fact that there are other groups of people who face the same kinds of indignities and discrimination as disabled people, it’s not unique to us. Yet they are not openly encouraged to commit suicide when it all gets too much.
[The image is a photograph of a group of wheelchair users, followed by people walking, with signs that read “Not dead yet” and “We’re not better off dead”. It was taken by Cathy Cole and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]