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Death with “dignity”: The wedge that divides the disability rights movement from the right to die movement

  • Susan M. Behuniak (a1)

Much of the American debate over physician assisted death (PAD) is framed as an ideological split between conservatives and liberals, pro life and pro choice advocates, and those who emphasize morality versus personal autonomy. Less examined, but no less relevant, is a split within the ranks of progressives—one that divides those supporting a right to die in the name of human rights from disability rights activists who invoke human rights to vehemently oppose euthanasia. This paper reviews how “dignity” serves both as a divisive wedge in this debate but also as a value that can span the divide between groups and open the way to productive discourse. Supporters of legalized euthanasia use “dignity” to express their position that some deaths might indeed be accelerated. At the same time, opponents adopt the concept to argue that physician assisted suicide stigmatizes life with a disability. To bridge this divide, the worldviews of two groups, Compassion & Choices and Not Dead Yet, are studied. The analysis concludes that the two organizations are more parallel than contrary—a finding that offers opportunities for dialogue and perhaps even advances in public policy.

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Politics and the Life Sciences
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