Ireland Needs To Be NOT DEAD YET

Activist and academic Peter Kearns is engaging with ILMI’s E-Bulletin to post a brief series of articles on the cultural backdrop to why many Irish disabled activists are opposing Gino Kelly’s Dying-with-Dignity (DwD) Dáil 2021 Bill. Peter’s Bi-Weekly articles will explore how disabled activists in Republic of Ireland (RoI) have steadily become aware of the dangers associated with the call for assisted suicide to be legalised based on the campaigning lived experiences of our international colleagues. 

The idea that disabled people should have the ‘choice’ to be better-off-dead, including those who very much know that they do not have long to live, is not new. This so-called ‘choice’ has been tackled head-on by the NOT DEAD YET movement over the past decades. The 100% disabled activist led international movement is named after a hilarious deadly plague Monty Phyton comedy scene from the 1975 film The Holy Grail:( So far there exists around four international branches of the anti-assisted suicide ‘choice’ movement, these are currently active in USA, Canada, New Zealand and UK…. is there a need for an IRELAND NOT DEAD YET? 

The social model informed NOT DEAD YET movement believe individual disabled people’s suicidal cries for help are mainly coming from a lack of proper practical, emotional and medical support needed to live dignified lives, rather than from the ‘suffering’ they experience as a result of a medical condition. Such loss of hope – which forces some disabled young people and adults, especially those with acquired impairments, to see death as their only option – is easily misinterpreted as a ‘choice’ in a society that continues to see and treat disabled people as ‘special’ second class citizens, something the current Covid-‘crisis’ has amplified with medical model language such as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘cocooned’. 

The COVID pandemic has revealed international lived experiences that some disabled people have been denied treatment for the virus due to their perceived impairment ‘labels’ and pervasive biases about their “quality of life”. This documented denial of care, in such places as our neighbours NHS in the UK, raises the very real issue that disabled persons are and will face similar discrimination under a possible 2021 enacted assisted suicide Dáil Act.

Individuals risk being easily exploited by the ‘right-to-die’ movements active presence on social media or, worse, by family, friends and health care professionals. Many Irish activists see their attitude as not compassionate, but as prejudiced and disablist, as with the promotion of medical model phrases as already mentioned with ‘vulnerable’ or ‘cocooned’ in preset Covid-19 media campaigns. The international activist led NOT DEAD YET movement oppose policies that single out individuals for legalised killing based on their medical condition, impairment label or near end-of-life prognosis. 

Activists have recognised that healthcare providers can become the gatekeepers of assisted suicide in countries such as Netherlands and USA states like Oregon, where assisted-suicide is legal, which is often loosely based on rendering a terminal prognosis and certifying dubious lack of coercion evidence. Assisted suicide laws, such as Gino Kelly’s 2021 DwD Bill, could immunize health and medical providers from criminal and civil liability in the death of an individual disabled citizen. UK NOT DEAD YET disability activist Diane Coleman (photo) feels that careful examination of the language in such proposed laws “reveals the absence of meaningful safeguards”. 

Photo of Diane Coleman wearing red print top and red sweater, smiling with gray bobbed hair, wire rimmed glasses and a nasal breathing mask
Activist Diane Coleman

Nevertheless, Irish public acceptance of the rapid progress of Gino Kelly’s DwD Bill has largely depended on a non-disabled trust in medical providers’ willingness and ability to protect very ill individuals from mistakes, coercion and abuses, up to and including negligent or intentional homicide. Activists such as Diane feel that “the Covid pandemic has demonstrated that such trust is misplaced”.

In the next ILMI E-Bulletin, Peter Kearns will identify why the distinction between disability & impairment labels and terminal illness in the Dying-with-Dignity debate is a myth.