A Disabled Life Is a Life Worth Living

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Ben Mattlin, an accomplished author, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled “A Disabled Life Is a Life Worth Living.” It’s a moving piece that explores living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), including the regular struggle to overcome the physical and mental challenges he faces every day. Ben’s successes are numerous, but it’s especially powerful to read that Ben thinks he is successful because of his disability, not in spite of it.

“I decided long ago that if I’m going to like myself, I have to like the disability that has contributed to who I am. Today, my encroaching decrepitude is frequently a source of emotional strength, a motivator to keep fighting, to exercise my full abilities in whatever way possible. Let’s face it, people with disabilities are nothing if not first-class problem-solvers.”

He continues:

“True, it is a hassle having to devise alternative methods for living a normal life. But when it works, Oh, how good it feels! How triumphant and liberating! I’m proud of my persistence and creative coping skills.”

Ben’s message is one of hope. It’s a story we’re happy to share and wish more people would read it.

Unfortunately, society does not always view people living with disabilities as positively. This is especially true when it comes to health care and end-of-life care. As our friends at The Arc Maryland noted in their 2015 testimony in opposition to physician-assisted suicide legislation: there is “historic discrimination in the medical field based on perceived ‘quality of life’ of persons with disabilities, and lack of treatment and other options for individuals with I/DD [intellectual/development disabilities] (such as palliative care, suicide prevention, mental health services, support services, etc.).” Further, it is extremely common for people with disabilities to experience serious and on-going depression.

This is why physician-assisted suicide is so scary to the disability community. At the heart of the “Death with Dignity” argument is that life is not worth living if you are a burden on others or otherwise cannot live without assistance. Their message has clearly resonated: the top three reasons Oregon residents chose physician-assisted suicide are: decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable, loss of autonomy, and loss of dignity.

Legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Maryland would only reinforce what many in the disability community feel: their lives are not worth living. This dangerous practice also would expose vulnerable populations to coercion by family and caretakers who seek to gain from a death – a fact that has disability advocates strongly working in opposition to legalization of PAS.

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