DISABLED LIVES MATTER
A bill regarding assisted suicide is currently going through parliament in New Zealand. It has passed its first reading and has gone to select committee. Polls have shown around 75% of people are in support of assisted suicide for the terminally ill who have less than six months to live. I support the first clause of the bill and also feel those with a terminal illness should be given the right to die with dignity.
What has completely shocked me has been the response to a second clause in the bill for those eligible for assisted suicide. Essentially, if someone has a ‘grievous and irremediable condition’ or severe disability, they should also be given the right to chose death. Ironically, two years ago I would have fully supported this clause too – because I wanted that option.
After failed suicide attempts of my own, I was desperate to end my life. I was so angry I wasn’t given that choice. To me it was simple. I was in a lot of neuropathic pain due to an unstable neck break, I wasn’t coping mentally due to a perfect storm of issues including PTSD from ongoing earthquakes in the city of Christchurch, a marriage break-up, an unsupportive work environment where for two years I had no access to a staff disabled toilet- so I stopped drinking and consequently became sick. I had fertility issues and was working unsustainable hours without adequate sleep. I was exhausted, depressed, anxious and could see no way out. Yet all of these issues had little to do with my actual injury. They were more about lifestyle choices and environmental stresses.
After my failed suicide attempts, I’d see the psychiatrist or psychologist and was repeatedly told given the severity of my injury, I should pursue the idea of assisted suicide in other countries. I was never asked about my lifestyle or my coping mechanisms, it was assumed my problems were related to my injury. I didn’t question this, I just wanted my world to stop.
Ironically, it was a botched neck stabilising surgery which took away my ability to work in my former job that forced me to reassess my life. I slept, connected with others and slowly the black suicidal cloud lifted and I could see clearly for the first time since my injury. It occurred to me I didn’t want to die, but I had wanted everything to stop.
So here I am, two years later and I am so grateful I am here. I’m alive. It scares me think I came so close to giving up when now I have so much to live for. Which brings me back to the bill. I fit the criteria for assisted suicide given my injury status. If this bill had been passed two years ago, I would not be here now.
It’s not easy to come out and talk about what is an extremely personal issue, but I’m doing it for people like me. I’m doing it for people who have so much to live for, but due to whatever reason, feel they too want to stop as I did. This disability is not a death sentence when you manage it correctly and have the right support. This disability should not qualify someone for assisted suicide when life can change.
So I wrote an article for a national news source and was met with a very hostile response. Initially, I found the comments heart-breaking, frustrating, ignorant and vitriolic in nature. I was told I was ‘scaremongering’ people, I was told I was wrong and clause 2 didn’t exist, that the bill was only for the terminally ill. I was told I lied and health professionals would never suggest I should look into assisted suicide. I was told I was from the religious right who had an ‘agenda’ based on religious reasons. I was told because I was an attractive young woman, my life was fine. I was told my turnaround was due to taxpayers paying for my new lifestyle - despite working and studying. I was told someone with my injury should be given the right to die as ‘who could live with tetraplegia’?
No matter what I said, people had made up their minds. I was wrong. I had lied, I was scaremongering. And it hurt. But then a little voice inside me reminded me of the Claire of two years ago. The angry, exhausted, depressed Claire, the Claire who wanted everything to stop. That Claire would also have written in to my article. She would have said ‘life doesn’t change, perceptions don’t change, life couldn’t possibly get better’. She would have fought for the right to die. But she was wrong. I was wrong. Life does change, it can change. And blaming this injury, no matter how easy that was to do, wouldn’t change the problems I was experiencing. I had convinced everyone, my friends, my family, and even health professionals that the root of my problems was my injury and to them, that made sense. But it wasn’t true.
So yes, I’m putting myself out there, I’m standing up for people like myself in the hope that we reconsider the second clause. Love and support will help people through the dark times, not options like assisted suicide. How can we allow a vulnerable group of people the choice of death when there are other ways of dealing with life? What value does that place on disabled lives?