“People with disabilities want support to live, not to die.”
That was the fundamental message from former Australian disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes AM as he spoke to a near-packed auditorium at Westmead Hospital during Hospital Week’s euthanasia symposium.
The human rights lawyer and company director, who is blind, spoke passionately about his opposition to voluntary-assisted dying legislation, amid concerns disabled people would be put at “high risk” if it was passed.
He recounted the story of a Canadian mother and her 25-year-old disabled daughter during a recent hospital stay.
A doctor told the mother she was “selfish” for not considering euthanasia as an option for her daughter.
“This was said in the daughter’s earshot,” Mr Innes told the crowd.
“The mother has since asked for an apology from the health system [because] her daughter could hear the entire conversation.
“It really highlights the way people with disabilities are disempowered and mistreated – it would have been significantly traumatic for the daughter to overhear a conversation about her potential death being had without her; she just wasn’t even given a say.”
Mr Innes has experienced first-hand how disabled people can be treated as second-class citizens, recalling how he was discriminated against as a blind man with a young baby.
“I was at the train station and a woman approached me and asked my name,” he said.
“… she told me she wanted to report me to the police as people like me shouldn’t be allowed to care for young babies; I had my white cane in one hand and my baby strapped to my front.”
Mr Innes believes these stories – and hundreds like them – only add fuel to views in the community that people with disabilities would be “better off dead”.
These attitudes the cornerstone of his opposition to euthanasia legislation.
“This is the thin edge of the wedge,” he said.
“We’re talking about people’s lives, there is no second chance so we have to be very careful.”