People with disabilities are not strangers to the fact that non-disabled people cannot imagine life with a disability. They tell us that they would rather be dead than living with a disability.
This is because disability is equated with pain, suffering, and dependency. At times, this attitude translates into a deadly compassion, where it is seen as a kindness to help a person with a disability to die. As a result, people with disabilities are being harmed. Today, two Canadians with disabilities, Rhonda Wiebe and Jim Derksen, appear before the House of Commons Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care to explain how deadly compassion puts us in harms way and to suggest how to detoxify the medical care and public policy environment, as both are affected by this insidious stereotype.
"When our colleague the late Mike Rosner, a Manitoban with disability, went to hospital with pneumonia, he expected treatment to cure his illness. However, his doctors offered to make him comfortable while nature took its course," stated Rhonda Wiebe, Chair of CCD's Ending of Life Ethics Committee. "Members of the disability community had to advocate on his behalf to get him the treatment he needed." People with disabilities are challenging the insidious stereotypes that bring harm to people with disabilities. We are challenging cultural practices that cause our society to abandon its fundamental respect for the dignity and human rights of people with disabilities. "We are speaking out to challenge the labels, to preserve our dignity and challenge how others see us," stated Wiebe.
We appear before the Committee to defend ourselves in the public policy environment on several fronts. First, we oppose any process to amend the Criminal Code to legalize assisted suicide. Second, we oppose any policy, such as the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons Statement on Withdrawing and Withhold Life Sustaining Treatment, which uses a lack of ability as a criteria for ending life. Third, we seek the greater participation of people with disabilities in the education of medical professionals so that we can challenge stereotypical thinking about people with disabilities and the development of palliative care services. Fourth, we seek health care, including palliative care, that accommodates the needs of people with disabilities. For example, people with disabilities in palliative care need to have access to their own personal care attendants and technical aids. Presently, there are barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to access the necessary range of disability-related supports when in the medical system.
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