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Posted by Philip on 14 October 2016, 4:33 pm in , , , , , , ,

I am no longer a Select Committee virgin (aka Simon O'Connor asked me a question)

This afternoon I presented to the Parliamentary ​Health Select Committee​ about my submission on Hon Maryan Street’s petition about voluntary euthanasia​ (or assisted dying). Imagine my delight when I saw, sitting in the sub-committee to which I was to present, Hon Simon O'Connor, the Committee's Chair​​, and Poto Williams, Labour's spokesperson on disability issues, whom I have met several times​. Score!

I began by acknowledging the death this morning of Helen Kelly who, in her struggle with cancer, lobbied for legalisation of both medical cannabis use and assisted​ dying (AD). Helen, if you're reading this somewhere and you had anything to do with ​the sub-committee make-up, many, many thanks.

I began by recapping on my submission, telling the sub-committee members that I fully support legalisation of AD as a humane and compassionate process and that I want the option to use it, should I need it​. I said I wanted them to see me as a disabled person who does not feel worthless enough to fear being coerced into choosing to die early to avoid being a burden, like so many others postulate. ​

There is the possibility that anybody, not just disabled people, may be coerced into dying prematurely because of wealth, sickness etc, so the important issue is that robust policies and procedures must be in place. We can’t protect and uphold some people’s rights by denying the rights of others.

Then I said I wanted to address them as leaders. "​​As leaders," I asked, "what decision will you make - one based on courage, or on fear?"

If they were to make a courageous decision to change the law, I suggested, they would be moving things forward, taking a risk, embracing compassion and starting new conversations about quality of life and dignity in death, as well as the worthlessness some disabled people fear.

A fear-based decision, however, would retain status quo, be risk averse, avoid change and progress, avoid conflict and avoid dealing with some people’s fears.

Any decision such as this will create disagreement. Their choice, I proffered​ will come down to whom they wish to agree with them.

Compassionate, progressive people who value choice, quality of life and dignity?

Or scared, stuck people who don’t want change or progress, and value control, restriction and suffering over choice and freedom?​

That was my democratic five minutes up. Unexpectedly, as no questions had been asked of the previous two presenters, Poto Williams asked me my thoughts on the estimated 70/30 ratio against law change displayed by the disabled community.

I acknowledged the loud international voice against AD. But, I said, I think that voice is fear-based. I wasn't criticising that, but fear-based opinions are often ​​illogical and nonsensical.

Serendipitously, before going to the presentation, my PA Sam had observed the contradiction of the disability rights lobby — insisting that we have the right to do things how, when and where we want — arguing against the right to die with ​dignity. So I said that — cheers Sam — and I said I wasn't afraid of being worthless. ​​ Poto got it.

Then Simon O'Connor asked me a question. Let me say that again: Simon. O'Connor. Asked. Me. A. Question. ​​"What," he asked, "would you say to the person who has become disabled and thinks life is no longer worth living?"

In recovery from Simon O'Connor asking me a question (did I tell you that?), I clarified that "the person" was arguing for AD. Yes. So​ I talked about dysfunctionphobia, the fear of losing function. Unlike other phobias about sexuality or culture, which we now frown upon, we leave dysfunctionphobia to run rife throughout most, if not all, societies. It's unacceptable, at least in most liberal western societies, to not want a gay kid or a kid of a certain race, but we're fine with people saying ​they don't want a disabled child — why would they? So, I ​said to Simon, to that person I would say, "Deal with your stuff and see the many and growing number of disabled people who are live productive valuable lives." I think Simon got that.

And that was it. I was no longer a Select Committee virgin.​​

In the postmortem with ​Sam driving home, we reflected that, had I not been recovering from Simon O'Connor asking me a question (what a coup), I may have answered his question differently. The alternatives could have been:

Well, living with the experience of disability does not often cause unbearable pain and suffering, which is precisely why you need robust policy and procedures around AD. But then you get philosophical because, how do you define "​unbearable pain and suffering"? Is it just physical? Could it be psychological or emotional? All of which are fascinating​ questions and is why we should change the law and plunge ourselves into them.

Another: Well, if after becoming disabled, you really don't want to live, is that such a terrible thing? The sanctity of human life is somewhat over-rated and if they want to die, why not let them. Why are we so hell-bent on keeping people, who don't want to be, alive?

And then we just went somewhere very dark: Look, there are too many people and too little fair distribution of resources on this planet. If someone doesn't want to live, why should they be ungratefully using resources that could be ours?

*Scratching record, fades to silence...a cigarette is lit*

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