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‘Huge concerns’ for disabled people over assisted dying

Disabled people are “very concerned” that assisted dying is being considered when they are lacking many supports needed to live full lives, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

An activist warned the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying that it “could lead to disabled people making choices where, through lack of supports, they begin to view themselves as a ‘burden'”.

Peter Kearns is a disabled activist, artist and academic, and the development officer with the Independent Living Movement Ireland.

“Give us a chance to have a bit of a life before the other bit comes upon us,” he appealed to the committee.

Disabled people have to contend with “a narrative your life is not as valued as a non-disabled citizen”, he said.

Mr Kearns warned that, if assisted dying and assisted suicide were to be introduced, people will disabilities would be forced to ask themselves repeatedly as they grow older, “Is my life worth living?”

He urged that the State support all of its citizens to live full lives across their entire lifespans.

“Choice should not just happen at moments of crisis or imminent death,” he said.

“It is the lack of choice, control and agency throughout our life-course that is the underlying reason why society is so inaccessible to disabled people and excludes and isolates us systematically.”

He said that many disabled people “have huge concerns” around assisted dying, especially when it comes to who would decide whether “a person has a life-limiting condition, or be on the spectrum of dying of a terminal illness”.

“What Ireland needs is a conversation about the needs of disabled people: proper practical, emotional and medical support needed to live dignified lives,” Mr Kearns said.

John Dolan, CEO of Disability Federation of Ireland

John Dolan, CEO of Disability Federation of Ireland, said that he is constantly struck by how much disabled people want “to be doing things, to be part of” society.

“It is important that the State does not unduly have an ‘invisible’ hand, or influence, in the decision of someone to end their life,” he told the committee, cautioning that this could happen “because it has not supported disabled people to have a life of independence equal to everyone else”.

“Many disabled people in Ireland are caught up in a daily cycle of worry about how to survive” on a “wholly inadequate” income, Mr Dolan said.

“They are often subject to intersecting layers of social and economic disadvantage and other barriers that drive health inequity,” he added.

Read more: Religious leaders express concern over assisted dying

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