I read Brendan Rope's story of his father's battle with motor neurone disease with sadness.

Stories of such weight are half the argument for assisted dying, and we should take them seriously.

But we should also take seriously the assumptions about disability the article also displays. As a trustee of a disability charity, I know many people who can't speak. Many people who can't feed themselves.

Read more: Brendon Rope: Human Rights slip behind animal rights


As a sufferer of spastic hemiplegia, I too am in daily pain. I too am frustrated, and angry, and crying, and sad. Our elderly in rest homes, dementia units, and hospitals too know the frustrations of not being able to care for themselves: the pain of having to depend on others.

But when you argue that you'd rather be shot than live a disabled life, your argument has profound implications for the value of disabled people, and for those who also have motor neurone disease, spina bifida, or like me, cerebral palsy.

We have two options here: view dependency as a degrading and horrible crime (which puts human beings who are dependent on the same level as a sick sheep), or we can do what we do with all other forms of suicidality: youth suicide or elder suicide, and come around the person with proper medical treatments, family and community solidarity, and meaning.

Mr Rope announces that suicide is a very different thing to euthanasia, but offers no arguments why this is so—from the disabled corner, I argue it's exactly the same.

If a 25-year-old rugby player went to a doctor's surgery in Napier and announced he wanted to die, there would be a whole stack of services available to him—pscyhologists, support workers, pain management teams.

If he couldn't figure out why his life was meaningful, the community would hold his dignity for him, and remind him of the value of his life. If an 86-year-old grandma wanted a lethal injection in her care home, we'd do the same.

It is only disabled people who seem to be a category we cannot support; only the end of life as a society we cannot face. Because here is the reality: legalising euthanasia under the model on the table now does not simply apply to hard cases like Mr Rope's father, people with strong minds and wills who know what they want.

To include not only the terminally ill, but people with incurable and severe conditions means me, and the vast majority of disabled people.

The bill on the table now applies to everyone over 18, does not require a stand-down period to consider options, does not require a psych exam unless doctors disagree, and it requires no informing family.

It places a huge burden on doctors, and a huge weight on the vulnerable. Applied not in a thought experiment, or in a hard case, but to the other people the category opens up, and a busy, rushed hospital ward, it is a clear and present danger to the lives of the disabled.

I too am a small-town kid. I too understand the pain of dependency. But there are worse evils in the world than depending on your neighbour, worse things than having to let go of control.

One of them is a medical system which deals in death. One of them is stigmatising other disabled people's lives as a nightmare. One of them is reducing me, and those like me, who find meaning and vibrancy in our lives, to the level of animals to be put down.

I understand the grief of sudden disability. I too have had a mobility decline. But we do not treat people like dogs for a very simple reason: we aren't dogs. We are human beings.

And human beings make choices in a context: pain level, family support, money, meaning, and social attitudes to disability all affect that choice.

Mr Rope's argument: "better dead than disabled" itself shows the context disabled people have to deal with in making choices about our lives. We know it can take years to come to terms with the grief of severe disability. At Elevate we see and help people do that with all the kindness and toughness we've got.

But assisted dying is bigger than one or two hard cases. It's about what disabled people's lives are worth.

Do we really want to argue that some people (the dependent ones) lose meaning, and their very humanity such that their suicide (yes, Mr Rope, it is suicide) should be condoned and excused on a different level than young people or the elderly? Can I really be compared to a sick sheep?

If we're really making that argument, disabled people are in danger. And I don't want to live in that kind of country.

Dr John Fox is a trustee of Elevate, the Christian Disability Trust, which has been giving support and care to physically and mentally disabled people, the visually impaired and their families for more than 40 years. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz