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Copyright (c) 2006 University of Oregon
Oregon Law Review

ARTICLE: Disability and the End of Life


85 Or. L. Rev. 123




The message from the disability rights community 1 in the debate over end-of-life decisionmaking is simple and compelling: the disabled are better off alive than dead. 2 Any effort to terminate life-sustaining treatment for a person who finds him-or herself disabled is not only demeaning to all people with disabilities, it also constitutes legal discrimination. 3 Thus, courts and legislatures must prevent the termination of medical treatment, especially nutrition and hydration, in cases in which the patient has no written living will. 4 The message has traction. By engaging in major lobbying efforts and court cases to press their cause, disability groups like Not Dead Yet and activists like lawyer Harriet McBryde Johnson have shaken foundational principles of law and bioethics that have for at least thirty years made it permissible for individuals to choose to forgo life-sustaining treatment. 5

To some degree, the success of the disability rights movement in spreading its message is attributable to an unspoken rule that the disability rights community is untouchable. People outside the community who have not experienced the life of a person with disabilities 6 dare not disagree with the disabled. The reluctance is somewhat justified: the able-bodied have not experienced the condescension and discrimination regularly inflicted on the disabled. 7

But to a very real degree, the lack of serious scholarly challenge to the position of the community is itself patronizing. 8 Indeed, the "reflexive scorn" 9 to the activists' message and the near silence ...
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