I do not support assisted suicide legalization. I am disabled. This pairing is not uncommon. Many disability activists and organizations oppose making the killing of our kind as a special legal category. Organizations that oppose “right to die” laws include but are not limited to ADAPT, the National Council on Independent Living, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and Not Dead Yet.
The knowledge that disability activists frequently oppose such legislation often surprises abled people, those society preferences for their health and body. They imagine disability, or at least certain forms of disability, is a fate worse than death, that if they were in our shoes and wheelchairs and hospital beds, they’d kill themselves. This imaginary projection motivates “right to die” supporters, who are most often not disabled and not actually requesting death for their current selves.
But disabled people generally don’t want to die, with the obvious exception of suicidal depression. While it is very common for someone with an acquired disability to have a mourning period or time of depressed mood, within a few years we report the same levels of happiness as we did before becoming disabled. This includes disabilities that are frequently invoked in these discussions, such as spinal cord injury and amputation.
Disabled representation in television and movies is deplorable, with very few characters, who somehow all manage to follow the same literary tropes Dickens cursed us with. Disabled children are the only ones who can be legally segregated from their peers in public schools and this has long been the standard. Because of this, abled people are severely limited in their capacity to imagine our lives as they are. They only have the similarly limited imaginations of other abled people to go on.
By contrast, almost everyone knows someone who has had a temporary disability – a broken bone,or a pregnancy requiring bed rest. And everyone knows someone who had cancer. Cancer is kind of a sore thumb under the disability umbrella; it can be fatal and ravage the body or it can be treated with aggressive medical therapies, never to return. People with cancer may go on to live active, able bodied lives. They may do so for a few years, only to become sick and disabled again. It is both chronic and not.