Assisted suicide proponents from the Georgia chapter of Final Exit Network, charged with helping a Georgia cancer patient commit suicide using a tank of helium and a plastic “exit” bag and then going public about their actions, challenged their prosecution in the state’s Supreme Court on Monday, November 7, 2011.
In italics below is an excellent op-ed piece by Eleanor Smith of the Georgia chapter of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, challenging the proponents’ case in Georgia and making the important larger argument that people with disabilities are entitled to the same protections against suicide as everyone else. Smith, like Ari Ne’eman of the National Council on Disability, whose article we posted last week, believes the legalization of assisting a suicide for any reason will threaten those already fragile protections. We have taken her piece from a longer posting on the website of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia (http://www.silcga.org/disability-activists-urge-ga-supreme-court-to-uphold-prosecution-of-final-exit-network). Note that other individuals and disability rights groups have signed on.
As a disability rights activist, I see many people struggle every day to obtain the basic essentials to live and participate in the community. Because of many economic and attitudinal barriers thrown in people’s way, it’s not unusual for members of our community to experience at least brief periods of despair over what can seem like a never ending struggle.
I am very concerned over the “assistance” that members of the Final Exit Network (FEN) are eager to give to old, ill or disabled people who want to commit suicide. Young, healthy people sometimes feel suicidal, and in those cases law– and society as a whole –rightly step in strongly for prevention. But FEN singles out disabled people as candidates for active help to kill themselves.
One of the charges against FEN involves tampering with the scene of a suicide to pass it off as a natural death.
Also to consider is the troublesome report by an undercover GBI agent. The agent stated that one of the defendants, who had posed as a prospective FEN client, informed him that part of the “help” offered would involve holding his hands down to make sure he didn’t “inadvertently” rip the helium-filled bag off. It’s hard to believe that none of the roughly 200 FEN claims to have helped commit suicide didn’t change their mind at the last minute. The histories of at least two of the members of the FEN Advisory Board raise alarms. Faye Girsh and Ruth von Fuchs both have publicly advocated removing or lessening the legal consequences for family members who kill a disabled child or a cognitively disabled adult such as a person with dementia– provided that the killer claimed to have acted out of compassion.
What guarantees do any of us have that FEN members haven’t aided and abetted outright murders? The helium apparatus could easily be used to kill an elderly relative or child with cognitive disabilities, with no sign of struggle.
We ask the Georgia Supreme Court: Please proceed with prosecution for tampering with the scene of death. And please uphold Georgia’s ban on assisted suicide so that predators have some checks on their behavior.
– Not Dead Yet of Georgia
Patricia Puckett – Not Dead Yet of Georgia
Rebecca Ramage-Tuttle – Not Dead Yet of Georgia
Linda Pogue – Georgia ADAPT
Vivian Teel – ADAPT
Georgia Advocacy Office
Harriet Harris – Circle of Support, Inc.
The Arc of Georgia
Not Dead Yet of Georgia