Non-Disabled People Have Deemed Disabled Lives Unworthy of Saving - Again.
By Hannah Shewan Stevens
Over the weekend, a Guardian report revealed that Mencap has received reports of people with learning disabilities being given do not resuscitate (DNR) orders during the second wave of the pandemic without prior consent.
Coming right on the heels of a fight to get learning disabled people on the priority list for the vaccine, this policy is modern-day eugenics at work.
This decision, which is not just a clerical error, is a deliberate exercise in disparaging the worth of disabled lives under the guise of taking pressure off an under-funded NHS.
While I wish this was a surprising development, it is not. For centuries, the world has refused to actively fight the enduring ableism that undercuts our entire society, including access, employment, and even equal marriage. Despite some critics' excuses, the coronavirus has not caused ableist policies, it has simply made their existence crystal clear.
Throughout the year, we’ve been inundated with reports of disabled people paying the highest price, including statistics showing that 6 in 10 people who have died from the virus are disabled, and reports by the Care Quality Commission revealing that inappropriate DNR notices caused potentially avoidable deaths last year. In December, the CQC also said that "inappropriate" DNRs applied in the Spring on care home residents may still be in place.
The impact of these DNR notices and the consistent devaluation of disabled lives are not to be underestimated. Disabled people are dying disproportionately and our community is being decimated by this pandemic but, instead of being provided additional support and care, we are being signed off to die.
As a disabled person, it is soul-destroying to witness. I’m watching my community crumble without support and I live in fear that I, my beloved sister, or any one of my disabled friends will contract this virus and be left to die because we are deemed unworthy of resuscitation.
When living as a disabled person, you are painfully aware that your life is seen as less valuable, because society constantly treats your needs as an optional afterthought. These DNR notices validate the belief that this country still supports eugenics.
It only takes a few minutes of scrolling social media to find non-disabled people arguing that disabled lives do not matter, so we should be left to die. Tory MP Charles Walker argued that disabled people are acceptable losses on Channel 4 News, because “we cannot cancel life to preserve every life”.
Actually, we should. And we can certainly stop forcing DNRs on the disabled people being asked to sacrifice their lives. When we think about eugenics, we conjure up images of arbitrators of holocausts, but modern-day eugenics of disabled people is far more complex. Simply put though, it is the prioritisation of one life over another and the valuation of life based on ability.
Historically, disabled people have been crushed under the weight of similar policies. We’ve been incarcerated in asylums, crushed under the weight of poverty, and, back in ancient times, thrown off cliffs for daring to exist.
Forcing DNRs on vulnerable disabled patients is just the next stage of the systemic oppression and destruction of disabled people. Sympathising with arguments to “protect the NHS” by devaluing disabled life, or joking that “disabled people are going to die anyway” is eugenics and ableism working together as one evil horseman of the apocalypse.
Except the apocalypse for disabled people is not the pandemic, it is the government tasked with protecting us. Instead of being valued for the contributions we make, including the £249 billion, we contribute to the economy annually, disabled lives are being discarded again.
We remain entombed by poverty as we fight to repeatedly prove our disabilities to claim meagre benefits, we are underemployed and now we are being killed by DNR notices simply for existing.
There can be no justifications for this decision, only penitence and consequences. Action must be taken and the disabled community will fight for it. We've been here forever and, no matter how hard people try to kill us off and suppress our voices, we will endure. Loud, proud, and not consenting to DNR notices.