Euthanasia, ‘disability’ and human rights

I’ve read two interesting pieces about Peter Singer this week. Harriet McBryde Johnson’s 2003 piece is deeply moving Unspeakable Conversations and Stella Young’s piece The case against Peter Singer from today is a response to his recent visit to Australia.

Twitter was alive this week during Singer’s spot on Q&A (Big Ideas and Big Society: Euthanasia), and I’m extra glad I have so many crip activists in my feed to keep things real.

I’m going to simplify complex issues here, with my next comment. Perhaps the most powerful point made during this discussion was that living with debilitating or full-on medical or physical conditions is so challenging not just because these conditions are so full-on, but because our society(s) don’t recognise and protect the basic human rights of these individuals. That’s why so many disabled people live below the poverty line, consider suicide and generally get a crap deal. If our society was more enlightened, and aggressively pursued and defended basic human rights for all of us (including exploring options like the NDIS), then Singer wouldn’t feel justified in making the arguments he does. Or, as McBryde Johnson puts it (with greater eloquence):

What worries me most about the proposals for legalized assisted suicide is their veneer of beneficence — the medical determination that, for a given individual, suicide is reasonable or right. It is not about autonomy but about nondisabled people telling us what’s good for us.

… I argue that choice is illusory in a context of pervasive inequality. Choices are structured by oppression. We shouldn’t offer assistance with suicide until we all have the assistance we need to get out of bed in the morning and live a good life. Common causes of suicidality — dependence, institutional confinement, being a burden — are entirely curable.

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