The disability rights movement and the medical aid-in-dying movement share important core values: autonomy, independence, and self-determination. Surveys show that on average almost two out of three people living with a disability support medical aid in dying (2014 Purple Poll in Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts). Activists in the disability community — like Dr. Stephen Hawking — are some of the strongest supporters of medical aid in dying as an option.
Some have tried to argue that the availability of medical aid in dying could result in disabled persons being coerced into ending their lives, but this is not borne out by the facts. A person with a disability is only eligible for medical aid in dying if they are terminally ill with six months or less to live. No one can get a medical aid-in-dying prescription unless and until two doctors and two independent witnesses confirm that the person requesting it is not being coerced to do so. And coercing someone to use medical aid in dying is a serious felony punishable under state criminal laws.
Rachelle Chapman, a quadriplegic from North Carolina, speaks in favor of medical aid in dying in this four-minute video:
According to data gathered by Compassion and Choices, there has never been a single case of abuse or coercion, nor any criminal or disciplinary charges filed, in the entire combined 40 years of practice across states and jurisdictions that authorize medical aid in dying.
Testifying before the New Mexico legislature in 2021 (before a medical aid in dying bill was passed and signed into law by the Governor in April 2021), Jim Jackson, registered lobbyist for Disability Rights New Mexico, stated the following:
This is a controversial issue in the disability community because of the historical abuse and mistreatment and discrimination and the general devaluation of the lives of people with significant disabilities in our society. Disability Rights New Mexico recognizes this troubling history but also recognizes the fundamental importance to people of disabilities of self-determination, the ability and authority to make choices for oneself about one’s life and one’s death. Disability Rights New Mexico is neither promoting nor opposing this bill but we do want to acknowledge and appreciate that the sponsors have worked closely with us to address concerns that we had raised and we are now confident that there are adequate safeguards in the bill that assure that this option will only be available to individuals with disabilities who are at the end of their lives and who have clearly shown the capacity to fully understand the issues and are making this decision voluntarily without coercion.
For more information, see “Death with Dignity and People with Disabilities.”