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Better dead than disabled, I don’t think so!

February 13, 2015 — 

The following is a response to the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada by Nancy Hansen, director of disability studies at the U of M.

Nancy Hanson, director of the disability studies program at U of M.

Nancy Hanson, director of the disability studies program at U of M.

On February 9, I was listening to CBC Information Radio and the Harvard-educated Dr. Walker saying that “the disabled should be grateful for the recent Supreme Court decision.” I was shocked  and very disappointed. Would other marginalized  groups  be discussed or dismissed in such a cavalier manner?

Many in the medical profession have a limited understanding of the actual lived experience of disability and impairment. Disability issues are optional topics in most medical schools. Many people are projecting their own discomfort levels about disability on to disabled people. We live in a world of body privilege. As a society we have yet to develop a comfort level with messy, leaky bodies.

Physicians are not immune this cultural tension. There is very little creativity or imagination when those individuals with non-standard bodies appear and the disabled person is perceived as the “alien” on the scene.

We are chronically unexpected. We may be characterized as disruptive to the normal, established speed/space/time practices.  Often, disabled people are faced with the reality of having to make the case for being here. We are often perceived as taking up space that naturally belongs to the non-disabled. Our space is usually not of our choosing: marginal, tentative and subject to removal.

People with disabilities are caught up in a cycle of limited social expectation. I use crutches for mobility and I am regularly told by strangers that they could not live the way I do or that I am  brave or exceptional because I am going about my daily life.

How did we move from the need for good palliative care to death? Doing something differently or needing help with personal care  should not be equated with a life less worthy or suffering. Whose suffering are we really dealing with here? Doing things differently should not be equated with suffering. Strong legislative safeguards are of the utmost necessity particularly in a society where disability is regularly characterized as burdensome or viewed as pathology.

I have four university degrees, am very happily married with a great job, and I have a disability. Yet, whenever the topic of assisted suicide comes up I feel vulnerable. It is strange how one has to deal with a lot of obstacles to obtain access to or qualify for basic supports and services like transportation and wheelchairs — yet the path to assisted death is so unobstructed. Points to ponder…

As a  disabled person in Canada, this feels like a very slippery slope.


Nancy E. Hansen, PhD
Director, Interdisciplinary Master’s Program, Disability Studies


For further reading, see the story, “Assisted Suicide and the erasure of disability,” in the Winnipeg Free Press, by Christine Kelly, who graduated from the disability studies program.

Dying With Dignity, Winnipeg Chapter, sent a letter to UM Today about this article. You can read it here.

*”Better dead than disabled” is a catchphrase that has been taken up by disability activists as an illustration of the faulty logic and potential dangers of assisted suicide laws.

More here.

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4 comments on “Better dead than disabled, I don’t think so!

  1. Nicole Markotic

    Great article! We need more and more public debate on this issue, especially as so many “liberal-minded” people blithely support this Supreme Court Decision. Well done, Nancy!

  2. Elaine Thompson

    Let me play the role of devil’s advocate and ask the following question:
    What would your reaction be to legislation that gave the right to die to all citizens EXCEPT for those who self-identify as being handicapped?

  3. Vlad

    Luckily, it is just your opinion Nancy. You are happy and busy. It is good for you and for others. I am really glad for you.

    You can walk using crutches. But as you know, some disabled people cannot even visit washroom without support. Even more, some disabled stay in their beds 24×7 and do not remember how the washroom might look like. And just to add insult to the injury, mind you there is a lot of pain might be involved as well.

    Everybody has a right to live. It would be just logically to go further and extend the same rule to the right to die.

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