So why would a person with a disability ask for a suicide pill? My ex never would. Disabled from birth, Mike has been fighting for his rights since he was in grade school. He's a badass with 60 tattoos, and he's not ready to die any time soon.
But for the late-disabled, it's different. People diagnosed with a progressive disease — MS, ALS, and other such dire acronyms — still carry the same prejudices they've held all their able-bodied lives. Often, they don't know anyone living a full, enjoyable life with disabilities, don't know such lives are possible. So if a doctor offers them an exit, they're all too likely to take it.
It's happened. One of the earliest right-to-die cases, in 1989, was that of David Rivlin, a spinal-cord-injury survivor. Isolated in a nursing home, cut off from meaningful work, unable to live independently on the meager assistance the state offered at the time, he demanded to die. "I don't want to live an empty life lying helplessly in a nursing home for another 30 years," he told a reporter.
No one offered him an alternative. "The nondisabled people around him assumed that when a person with such a disability said he would rather be dead, he was acting rationally," disability activist Paul K. Longmore wrote a few years after Rivlin's death. Neither Rivlin, nor other people with disabilities seeking "death with dignity," realized that they could have been fighting for the support to live, rather than the right to die. Longmore observed, "The only real aid the system offered any of them . . . was assistance in ending their lives."
It's not 1989 anymore. The disabled in Massachusetts have more access, and more agency, than those in almost any other state, and activists fought hard to make it that way. Disabled Bostonians are filmmakers, tattoo artists, psychologists, writers. They ride the T. They own houses and businesses. And like Mike and me, they fall in love.
But not everyone knows that those things are an option. And with Romney — a man who sees adequate health care as a privilege, not a right — on the same ballot as Question 2, all that progress is scarily close to rolling back. Now is the worst time to perpetuate the myth that death is better than disability.
Vote no on Question 2.
S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at:SROSENBAUM@PHX.COM:: @SIROSENBAUM