The University Record, October 7, 1998

Assisted suicide, disability are forum topics

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Perspectives on assisted suicide and disability will be presented by three speakers at a forum 1:15-3:30 p.m. Oct.12 in the Michigan Union Ballroom. The free, public forum is sponsored by the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Council on Disability Concerns, Human Resources and Affirmative Action, the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living and the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.

"Assisted Suicide: The Ultimate Discrimination" will be discussed by Diane Coleman. Coleman is the founder of Not Dead Yet, a national group that advocates for rights for the disabled and opposes assisted suicide. She currently is executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park, Ill., and vice chair of the Illinois State Medicaid Advisory Committee. As a result of her own disabilities, she has used a wheelchair since she was 11 years of age. She worked as an attorney for the state of California for seven years, became co-director at the Technology Access Center of Middle Tennessee and served on the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission when she moved there in 1989. She founded Not Dead Yet in 1996 and often speaks to groups on the topics of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Coleman received her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1981.

Bob Liston, Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy, suffered a disabling spinal cord injury 27 years ago and has been active in campaigning for the rights of disabled people for nearly that long.

He currently is the organizer for Not Dead Yet in Michigan. He received a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Michigan State University and worked for the Oakland County Center for Independent Living for more than four years. Liston will speak on "The Disability Perspective on Proposal B."

"All the evidence on assisted suicide cases points to discrimination against people with disabilities. Many of the people who have died as a result of assisted suicide are people who were not necessarily terminally ill, who may not have been legally competent to decide, and who did not choose by their own free will," Liston says. He notes that there are many factors that play into a decision to end life, particularly depression and, for those who are disabled, a subtle or not-so-subtle treatment as someone who is inferior.

Edward Pierce, a retired physician, received a bachelor's degree from the U-M in 1955 and graduated from the Medical School in 1959. He founded Merian's Friends, a nonprofit ballot question committee, in 1996 and is the full-time volunteer chair of that organization. He will speak on "Proposal B: Physician Aid in Dying." Merian's Friends was founded after Merian Frederick of Ann Arbor was stricken with Lou Gehrig's Disease and died with the assistance of Jack Kevorkian in 1993.

Pierce is a retired family practitioner who founded the Summit Medical Center to provide medical care regardless of income, and was chair of the Department of Family Practice at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in 1974-75 and 1989-90.

A sign language interpreter will be provided at the forum. Individuals with disabilities who would like assistance in locating handicap parking spots can call 763-0235 or 971-0277.

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