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Right to self-determination

Liz Carr has written an ‘open letter‘ to Noel Martin, a neo-Nazi attack victim, regarding his decision to commit assisted suicide following being paralysed by his attackers.

In the past month or so, thanks to the US election, abortion and gay rights have come to the fore of public consciousness, and frankly, this is yet another instance of people’s attack on a right to govern one’s self.

Carr tries to tell Mr Martin several things:

1) that he has wonderful memories of life before his attack/before his wife died (of cancer a few years after his being attacked), which should sustain him

2) that he is now an inspiring figure in the fight against neo-Nazism

3) that there are plenty of places where disabled people can visit beaches and see the world

4) that he has been erroneously convinced by the media that as a disabled person, he is a second-class citizen and should want to die.

I find these points rather insulting and insensitive coming from anyone, even another disabled person. (Carr’s disability is the result of an illness at age 7, not a brutal attack as an adult, so immediately she is in a different situation to Martin.) She essentially tells the man that he hasn’t been making enough of his life; that he should live his life to be an inspiration to others; that he has foolishly allowed himself to be convinced by the media that he should want to die.

She met Martin for half an hour, and this is her basis for writing such a patronising and public response to his choice. It is a choice, he has a right to it, and she is not respecting it. Instead, she seems to be trying to force Martin to approach his disability in the same way that she has, the way that she declares is the right way.

She makes a very interesting claim that shows a total lack of compassion towards Martin:

“Until the day when good quality health and social care are universally available regardless of age, impairment, race, gender or location, I believe there is no place for legalised assisted suicide.”

This seems to say that Martin must continue living as he does—and he wouldn’t have made this choice if he wasn’t convinced this was not a way worth living—to put pressure on the government and society to repair all inequality.

Carr should respect this man’s choice. Although Martin will be making a trip to Switzerland to end his life, I fully support a (regulated and overseen) legalised euthanasia system in the UK. Carr’s behaviour shows that these rights are opposed not simply by people ignorant of the situation terminally ill and crippled people live in. Frankly, Carr is opposing ill and disabled people’s rights just as much as people who discriminate against them. Martin deserves the right to take control of his own life and body, and no one, particularly not Carr, should not be able to stand in his way.

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