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NCIL, Not Dead Yet, and Five Other National Disability Groups Submit Friend-of-the-Court Brief in New Mexico Assisted Suicide Appeal

Santa Fe, New Mexico (PRWEB)

If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, even if it were supposedly only for those with ‘terminal’ conditions, many of us would not be here today.

– Kelly Buckland, National Council on Independent Living

On August 22, 2014, Not Dead Yet submitted a Disability Rights friend-of-the-court brief in support of the New Mexico Attorney General’s appeal seeking to overturn a district court ruling that the New Mexico constitution contains a right to assisted suicide (Morris v. King, Case No. 33,630, Court of Appeals of the State of New Mexico). Six other national disability rights organizations joined in the brief: ADAPT, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, and the United Spinal Association (collectively “the Disability Rights Amici”).

The Disability Rights Amici are represented by Lara Katz of Montgomery and Andrews in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Steve Gold, a nationally known disability rights attorney based in Philadelphia. The Motion that accompanies the brief states why the groups believe that the disability rights perspective should be considered by the Court of Appeals:

“Their members, as well as other people with severe disabilities, are the potential targets of physician-assisted suicide. Their members have faced family and physicians who have actively deprived them of fundamental rights and liberties that others take for granted. They have members whose physicians have mistakenly told them they have six months to live, but have lived far beyond that prognosis. . . . Some members’ families have been urged by physicians to remove life-sustaining treatment at a critical juncture and, after their families fought such recommendations, have survived and gone on to value their lives. Some members initially contemplated suicide following a severe and life-threatening injury, but were denied that option under prior law, and went on to value their lives.”

Each of the Disability Rights Amici brings a specific perspective to the policy debate about assisted suicide. For example, the primary mission of ADAPT is to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are not forced into nursing facilities, but have the choice to receive consumer directed long term care services in their own home. “If the only alternative to death that those in power offer people who require assistance is poverty and segregation in nursing facilities, then it makes no sense to talk about assisted suicide as a ‘choice’”, said Bob Kafka, an ADAPT organizer based in Austin, Texas.

“As a person with a disability and a wheelchair-user, I’m proud that the disability community has overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of assisted suicide,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, California. “It’s a deadly mix with our broken, profit-driven health care system, where financial pressures already play far too great a role.”

Many people with disabilities acquire them as a result of accidents or trauma, and their prognosis is often uncertain in the early stages. “If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, even if it were supposedly only for those with ‘terminal’ conditions, many of us would not be here today,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “I might not be here today, and I’m grateful that assisted suicide was not legal back then, and I’m committed to keeping it that way.”

“There is significant evidence that proponents of physician assisted suicide have never intended to stop at the terminally ill,” noted Ari Ne’eman, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Legislation introduced in New Hampshire in 2014 and prior years includes a definition of terminal illness so broad as to allow for a lethal prescription in response to any condition which shortens lifespan without a known treatment – even if the individual in question might have years or even decades of life remaining. Assisted suicide advocates have been adept at using an incremental strategy by focusing on people who are terminally ill, but their broader policy agenda is already well documented.”

“Our basic position is that when some people get suicide prevention while other people get suicide assistance, and the difference is the person’s age, disability or health status, that’s a problem,” said Not Dead Yet’s president and CEO, Diane Coleman. “It’s a problem of devaluation of people who are being told that others not only agree with their suicide, which is bad enough, but will even help them carry it out. It’s a deadly form of discrimination and, as our brief says, it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

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