Euthanasia for the Disabled: UN Experts Warn of Undue Pressure

In a joint statement issued on January 25th, three independent international experts, expressed alarm to the UN over a growing trend in some countries to enact euthanasia laws which are largely targeted at disabled persons.

According to the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and the independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons: “Disability should never be grounds or justification to end someone’s life.” The independent experts said that even when access to medical assistance in dying is supposedly restricted to those at the end of life or with a terminal illness, people who are disabled and/or elderly may feel pressured to end their lives prematurely.

This expert opinion coincides with current discussions in the Canadian Parliament to allow euthanasia for people who are not at the end of life. For example, people with disabilities or individuals affected by certain conditions following a car or work-related accident, would be affected by this bill. Even though the law provides medical and procedural measures to prevent abuse, it nevertheless sends a devastating message to those affected, suggesting that their lives may not be worth living.

In recent years, various countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands who decriminalized euthanasia have already extended euthanasia to people with severe disabilities.

The three independent experts insist that disability, far from being a burden or a deficit of the person, is “a universal aspect of the human condition”. They also warn that “the proportion of people with disabilities living in poverty is significantly higher (…) than that of the rest of the population”, and that “the lack of adequate social protection” may lead these individuals “to want to end their lives in despair.”

The experts are also worried because people with disabilities are not adequately represented when laws that directly affect their rights are being drafted, and especially the “right to life”.

The UN experts adamantly declare that “under no circumstances should the law provide that it could be a well-reasoned decision for a person with a disabling condition who is not dying, to terminate their life with the support of the State.”

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