He stands for dehumanization and potentially fatal disrespect for the lives of people with disabilities. Resist the Cute Puppy of Death — vote No on Proposition 106!
Who doesn’t love a puppy? Because of this, puppies advertise everything from toilet paper*, to beer**, to the Americans with Disabilities Act***. And likely for this same reason, Official Cute White Woman Brittany Maynard holding the Official Cute Puppy of Death has become the primary image associated with efforts to legalize physician assisted suicide, most recently Colorado’s Proposition 106, cleverly named “End of Life Options,” while offering only one new option: death.****
The concept of Ultimate Autonomy is compelling, but both Prop 106 itself and the way it’s promoted are deeply dangerous for people with disabilities. In my view, these are the features that are fatal to Prop 106*****:
- “Terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live” is a very broad definition, sweeping in many people who would be dead far sooner if not for the life-sustaining drugs and technologies on which they rely, yet there is no provision in Prop 106 for ensuring a candidate for physician assisted death has been offered or even counseled on these drugs or technologies. Again: one option — death.
- Two physicians and, in some cases, a psychologist, must verify that the person is “mentally competent,” a term that assesses their rationality but not other psychological conditions like depression or, um, suicidal ideation, conditions that would result in prompt referral for additional counseling in non “terminal” people. In Amy Hasbrouck’s succinct cartoon:
- Prop 106 sends the message that lives with disabilities that would be terminal without support are “undignified” and not worth living. As the Denver Post reported:
In 2015, the top three concerns reported in [Oregon and Washington, where it’s already legal] were of the patient being less able to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, … steadily losing autonomy,… and losing dignity.
It’s not pain; it’s exclusion, control, and dignity. Control is something we have more and more technology to address; exclusion and dignity go straight to the heart of a disabiliphobic society. Rather than hand out lethal doses, why not find ways to make “activities that make life enjoyable” more accessible to all? And why have we defined “dignity” in a way that requires you to be buff, mobile, and continent? I personally believe that dignity inheres in compassion, love, and a twisted sense of humor, none of which requires continence.
Carrie Ann Lucas summarized the problems in a January 2016 op-ed opposing assisted suicide bills pending in Colorado that were ultimately defeated. Carrie explains that she would be eligible for death under the terms of the bill:
I am a person with multiple disabilities, including a progressive neuromuscular disease that has caused me to lose muscle function throughout my entire body. I have a gastrostomy tube, and I am dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Without my ventilator, I don’t have years to live. I don’t have six months, six weeks, or six days — I have hours. . . . I have a terminal condition — very much like ALS — and if assisted suicide were legal, I would qualify.
Though she qualifies for a lethal dose, Carrie is instead a leading disability rights lawyer and the sort of mom who makes sure her kids know how to cook and fish and protest social injustice. And! Carrie has a puppy, too! Her puppy is even cuter than The Cute Puppy of Death. Her puppy is named Dart, after disability rights hero Justin Dart.
Support Dart, The Avenging Puppy of Disability Rights: Vote No on 106!
You can learn more at these sites:
*Linked image shows Labrador puppy on his back, covered with rose petals, advertising Cottonelle toilet paper.
** Linked image shows white guy in ball cap holding a Labrador puppy up to a fence, in which a bottle of Budweiser is perched; a horse looks at the beer bottle from the other side of the photo.
*** Linked image shows one slide from my attempt to explain Title III of the ADA using a photo of our 6-week-old golden retriever puppy with the words, “Title III of the ADA governs businesses like stores, restaurants, and theaters.”
**** As the inimitable Ingrid Tischer once said, how about if the options included adequate, accessible health care, attendant care, durable medical equipment and technology, and pain relief. I’m pretty sure Ingrid said this, but I couldn’t find a link while I was drafting this, but also didn’t want to take credit for the thought when I’m pretty sure I read it on Tales From the Crip.
***** The official voter guide sets out the opposition thus:
1) Encouraging the use of lethal medication by terminally ill people may send the message that some lives are not worth living to their natural conclusion. People who are in the final stages of life are often in fear of the dying process. The availability of medical aid-in-dying may encourage people to make drastic decisions based on concerns about the potential loss of autonomy and dignity, not realizing that modern palliative and hospice care may effectively address these concerns. Services such as pain and symptom management, in-home services, and counseling can help individuals navigate the end of their lives while minimizing suffering. Promoting medical aid-in-dying may lead to a reduced emphasis on treatment and development of new options for end-of-life care.
2) Proposition 106 creates opportunities for abuse and fraud. The protections in the measure do not go far enough to shield vulnerable people from family members and others who may benefit from their premature death. Proposition 106 allows a family member or heir to be one of the witnesses to a request for the medication, potentially subjecting the individual to coercion. The measure does not require that a physician have any specific training in order to make an assessment of the individual or require independent verification that the medication was taken voluntarily or under medical supervision. Proposition 106 fails to ensure that the lethal medication will be stored in a safe location, potentially placing others at risk or leading to its misuse.
3) Proposition 106 may force physicians to choose between medical ethics and a request to die from a person for whom they feel compassion. The measure compromises a physician’s judgment by asking him or her to verify that an individual has a prognosis of six months or less to live, yet fails to recognize that diagnoses can be wrong and prognoses are estimates, not guarantees. The measure also requires that the physician or hospice director list the terminal illness or condition on the death certificate, which requires these professionals to misrepresent the cause of death.