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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Resolution Opposing the Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide

Adopted 1997

WHEREAS the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether physician-assisted suicide is a constitutional right or is an issue to be decided by the state legislatures; and

WHEREAS a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide is currently pending or will soon be proposed before the state legislature; and

WHEREAS no bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide applies to all citizens equally, but singles out individuals based on their health status in violation of the American with Disabilities Act; and

WHEREAS the legalization of physician-assisted suicide gives physicians the power to decide who will receive suicide prevention and who will receive suicide assistance and is, therefore, not based on individual choice; and

WHEREAS current trends in managed care and health care rationing threaten to diminish the availability of heath care and related services needed by people with disabilities; and

WHEREAS people with disabilities and chronic illnesses may be driven to despair as a result of fear of being forced into a nursing home or institution, fear of being a physical or financial burden on their families, lack of information about independent living options, and weariness from the daily struggle to get their legal needs met; and

WHEREAS any proposed legal “safeguard” requiring that physician-assisted suicide only be available to terminally ill individuals who voluntarily request it will not protect people with disabilities from abuse; and

WHEREAS numerous courts have ruled that people with non-terminal disabilities are the same as terminally ill patients in that the usual state interest in preserving life does not apply to them; and

WHEREAS many people with non-terminal disabilities are currently and repeatedly pressured to sign “do-no-resuscitate” orders and other advance directives calling for the withholding and withdrawal of medical treatment; and

WHEREAS there is significant empirical data indicating that routine medical treatments are often withheld from disabled infants for the purpose of causing their deaths; and

WHEREAS there is no empirical data indicating that current laws concerning advance directives are applied on a non-discriminatory basis; and

WHEREAS over a decade of experience with these “safeguards” in the Netherlands demonstrates that significant numbers of non-terminal people with disabilities have been involuntarily euthanized; and

WHEREAS enforcement of laws and regulations is unlikely in a social context which devalues people with disabilities as a drain on limited health care resources;


The National Council on Independent Living opposes the legalization of active physician-assisted suicide at the state or national level; and


The National Council on Independent Living calls for a study to evaluate whether current medical practices concerning the withholding and withdrawal of medical treatment discriminate against individuals based on ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, insurance or socioeconomic status; and

The National Council on Independent Living will communicate this position to the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, the President of the United States and U.S. Congress.