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A Valuable Option 

Editor:

Having worked as a provider of services to people with disabilities in the Eureka area for over 40 years, I appreciated your balanced assessment of a recently enacted law in California — the End of Life Option Act (Aug. 18).

That the Catholic church would apply religious dogma to deny people the right to make choices about important aspects of their lives is no surprise. Its refusal to allow doctors and patients to follow their own consciences regarding end-of-life options is consistent with its anti-choice positions on other matters.

However, opposition to the End of Life Option Act, by some, not all, organizations advocating for the rights of people with disabilities is misguided. Your article on this subject quotes Diane Coleman at Not Dead Yet as saying, "assisted suicide is a deadly form of discrimination" — presumably against people with disabilities. She further states the bogus slippery slope argument that the End of Life Option Act will be used to do away with people with disabilities.

First, the law applies only to carefully documented cases where a competent adult has been diagnosed with a condition that medical professionals expect to end in death within six months. Having a disability is not, in itself, a terminal illness.

Further, people like Coleman exploit the "better dead than disabled" stereotype that, in our less-civilized past, was in fact used to justify institutionalization and euthanasia of people with disabilities. She then equates reasons given by terminally ill patients in Oregon that opted for a dignified death — "loss of ability to engage in previously enjoyable activities, loss of autonomy, and loss of dignity"— with "disability issues." Certainly some people with disabilities, especially those acquired later in life through accident or illness, may struggle with those issues, but the point is, only people who have a terminal diagnosis can exercise the option to take control of the impending end of their lives.

We will all face death at some point in our lives, and that is not an easy fact to accept. The End of Life Option Act gives those who may at some point meet criteria for its use the opportunity to take control of that part of their lives with dignity and free from judgment.

Robert C. Van Fleet, Burnt Ranch

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