Coming Out Against Euthanasia: One Disabled LGBT Perspective

October 5, 2016 in General

Not everyone who opposes the decriminalisation of ‘voluntary’ euthanasia or physician assisted suicide is a hidebound religious social conservative- including many disabled LGBTI individuals who oppose it because of their commitment to disability rights and equality.

Although I’ve often pointed out the shift within New Zealand Christian Right activism, away from opposing LGBTI equality to their newfound anti-euthanasia stance, there are some LGBT individuals and disabled people who are in no way religious social conservatives and yet oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide. Their opposition is delineated in non-religious terms that are difficult not to agree with. Due to austerity policies, disability social services, welfare benefits and NGO funding are being slashed. Welfare provision is being privatised, assisted housing construction is being neglected, and disabled people are killing themselves because they’ve been forced off benefits into a job market that isn’t prepared to deal with people with psychiatric, developmental and behavioural disabilities. Worse still, there has been an upsurge in hate crimes against people with behavioural and developmental disabilities in the United Kingdom. NIMBYism is common against facilities for behavioural and developmental disabilities. People with psychiatric, behavioural and developmental disabilities make up a disproportionate number of homeless people in most western societies.

Yes, there is undeniably a right-wing, albeit indirect, backlash against disability rights in most neoliberal western societies. Which brings me to the subject of this column- progressive opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Supporting voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide is not the same as abortion rights, which is a genuine progressive cause. At the core of disabled ethical objections to euthanasia and assisted suicide is the demonisation of ‘dependency’ in New Right and pro-euthanasia discourse. Certainly, people with disabilities want to be autonomous too, with economic independence, independent living environments, employment and housing opportunities. However, the demonisation of dependency overlooks the neccessity of interdependence as a core value within progressive social movements. It is through a network of social relationships and economic networks that western societies exist, and both non-governmental civil society and the comprehensive welfare state are being undermined by New Zealand, Australian and United Kingdom centre-right governments. And yet, euthanasia and assisted suicide ‘reform’ are encountering progress within those same neoliberal western societies. In New Zealand, the Health select committee is hearing submissions on the subject of assisted suicide and euthanasia due to Maryan Street’s Voluntary Euthanasia Society petition. Granted, that petition has considerable public support. Granted, Kevin Hague, Maryan Street and Philip Patston all seem to support the idea that resorting to physician assisted suicide is an act of autonomy, presumably on the basis that they believe it is akin to abortion rights in the context of feminism. Really? Didn’t organisations like ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) campaign for access to life-saving medication and greater general public health care within the United States and elsewhere? And People With AIDS now get to live extended lives thanks to protease inhibitors and other combination therapies.

And the problem is, for every lesbian feminist advocate of assisted suicide like the late French lesbian feminist political theorist Michele Causse, there seem to be darker cases, such as that of Belgian transman Nathan Verhelst, who killed himself because of unrelenting depression at the perceived consequences of his reassignment surgery, and Maurice Generoux, the gay male Quebecois doctor who took it upon himself to kill PLWA patients without their preliminary consent. And haven’t our communities always regarded LGBT youth suicide as a terrible human tragedy? The fact is, there is no LGBT consensus on assisted suicide and euthanasia. If the current Health select committee submission process results in dismissal of this third New Zealand legislative attempt at euthanasia ‘law reform,’ or if David Seymour’s End of Life Choices Bill is selected from the ballot box and defeated at either its first or second readings, then palliative care options and protease inhibitors will continue to be available. There is no audible demand for reform from within New Zealand LGBT communities, not even women’s cancer survivors or People With HIV/AIDS or HIV+ people. On the other hand, New Zealand’s disability rights movement appears to mostly oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide. We need to sit down and establish a respectful dialogue with them about the question of why secular and progressive opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide exists within their communities and whether their experiences are also applicable to our own communities. I would like to thank Dr Huhana Hickey for her invaluable input into the drafting of this article.


Kevin Yuill: Assisted Suicide: The Liberal Humanist Case Against Legalisation: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 2013.

Not Dead Yet Aotearoa (New Zealand anti-euthanasia disability rights group):

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