A group of UN human rights experts have expressed alarm at what they call a “growing trend” to enact legislation allowing for Assisted Suicide “based largely on having a disability or disabling conditions, including in old age”.

These provisions could institutionalise “ableism” and would “directly violate” the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the expert group said. One of the group, Gerard Quinn, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities , was previously a member of the Irish Human Rights Commission.

‘Disability is not a burden or a deficit of the person,” they pointed out.

The human rights experts said that it would never be considered acceptable to support a person belonging to a protected group, such a member of a racial minority, in ending their lives because of suffering they experienced based on their status.

“We all accept that it could never be a well-reasoned decision for a person belonging to any other protected group – be it a racial minority, gender or sexual minorities – to end their lives because they experience suffering on account of their status,” they said.
“Disability should never be a ground or justification to end someone’s life directly or indirectly.”

“Under no circumstance should the law provide that it could be a well-reasoned decision for a person with a disabling condition who is not dying to terminate their life with the support of the State,” they argued.

 

PRESSURED TO END THEIR LIVES

The human rights grouping also said that even when access to medical assistance in dying is restricted to those at the end of life or with a terminal illness, people with disabilities, older persons, and especially older persons with disabilities, may feel subtly pressured to end their lives prematurely due to attitudinal barriers as well as the lack of appropriate services and support.

“The proportion of people with disabilities living in poverty is significantly higher, and in some countries double, than that of people without disabilities,” they said. “People with disabilities condemned to live in poverty due to the lack of adequate social protection can decide to end their lives as a gesture of despair. Set against the legacy of accumulated disadvantages their ‘architecture of choice’ could hardly be said to be unproblematic.”

Legalising Assisted Suicide for disabling conditions “would institutionalize and legally authorize ableism, and directly violate Article 10 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires States to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others,” they said.

The experts said that when life-ending interventions are normalised for people who are not terminally ill or suffering at the end of their lives, such legislative provisions tend to rest on – or draw strength from – ableist assumptions about the inherent ‘quality of life’ or ‘worth’ of the life of a person with a disability.

“These assumptions, which are grounded in ableism and associated stereotypes, have been decisively rejected by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Disability is not a burden or a deficit of the person. It is a universal aspect of the human condition.

The experts also expressed concern at the lack of involvement of people with disabilities, as well their representative organizations, in drafting such legislation. “It is paramount that the voices of people with disabilities of all ages and backgrounds are heard when drafting laws, policies and regulations that affect their rights, and especially when we talk about the right to life,” they said.

“Ensuring that people with disabilities and their representative organisations participate meaningfully in key legislative processes affecting them, including with regard to assisted dying, is a key component of States’ obligations to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and respect everyone’s right to life on an equal basis.”

The experts panel was comprised of Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities ; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.