Suicide Celebration Instead Of Suicide Prevention

Sue Griffiths of Winnipeg, MB is the latest person to publicize her desire for assisted suicide, and to have her efforts celebrated by the press.

Last week, her plea for parliament to re-open the assisted suicide question was widely reported as she prepared to go to Dignitas, a clinic in Switzerland that helps people kill themselves.

Ms. Griffiths has Multiple Systems Atrophy, a degenerative neurological condition which causes pain in about half the people who have it.  Photos show her standing, walking and using her hands; she is certainly not a person who is “physically unable to commit suicide without help.” She is described as a person who is in charge of her life, but she apparently wants to have someone else take charge of her death.

The reasons she gives for wanting to kill herself are related to disability, needing help with personal care and other daily activities, having to use adaptive equipment, losing independence.  The subtext is that, as a person with a disability, she believes she will be less worthy, less dignified, less than fully human.

In point of fact, disability is NOT a fate worse than death.  When people become disabled, they must grieve the loss of abilities they had, just as a parent might grieve the loss of a child, or one grieves the loss of one's home after a natural disaster.  But no one would suggest it's a good idea for the bereaved parent or survivor of a natural disaster to commit suicide, much less that s/he be helped to die.

We have a policy to prevent suicides, and rightfully so.  We apply this policy to people whose despair arises from social as well as psychological stresses; bullied adolescents, LGBT people who’ve been persecuted, Aboriginal people struggling with poverty and loss of cultural heritage, and survivors of domestic violence.  People with disabilities who lack services and supports to live in their homes and be integrated in their communities face the same discrimination and social stressors.  Suicide prevention policies and services should be applied equally to disabled and non-disabled people, without bias or prejudice about the quality of life with a disability.  And society must begin to address the underlying discrimination and stigma that create the conditions in which people with disabilities live.

We should really be asking: Why is no one trying to stop Susan Griffiths from committing suicide?  Does the media orgy around Griffiths story mean that we believe the everyday realities of living with a disability are reason enough to get help to die?  And should the media rise to the bait every time a person with a disability flaunts their suicide in the public square. ~ By Amy Hasbrouck, of Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet: A Project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)