Living In The Crosshairs: Battling Euthanasia’s Threat To Disability Rights

“The constant pro-euthanasia drumbeat of our modern culture of death is astounding …”

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I live every day under the looming shadow of euthanasia, always aware that I am a target for a so-called “mercy killing.” Just one sickness, medical emergency or accident separates me from those who would kill me and call it “death with dignity.”

While a hospital is a place of healing and care, it is also a potential place of danger for those of us who are disabled, elderly or chronically ill. Whenever I have been admitted to a hospital, I experience a certain apprehension, knowing medical caregivers may “opt out” of providing me wanted life-saving medical treatment if they decide my quality of life is not sufficient to justify their effort and expense.

You see, I am a disabled Marine combat veteran – critically wounded in Vietnam and residing in a wheelchair for the past 54 years. During my two-year, three-month long hospitalization – which included 27 surgeries – doctors employed many heroic efforts, hooked me to numerous machines and saved my life. That was from late 1969 to early 1972. Today, that extraordinary level of effort is considered intrusive and burdensome – characterized as just “prolonging suffering.”



Everyone of us is one accident or illness away from finding ourselves in the crosshairs of the growing threat of euthanasia. Today, many senior citizens are pressured to sign “do not resuscitate” orders upon admission to the hospital. They are devalued because of their age. As our Medicare and Medicaid systems lurch from one fiscal crisis to the next, the pressure increases to save money by denying medical care to those patients whose treatment needs are the most expensive. That includes me – along with many others who live with either physical or mental disabilities, or chronic illnesses, whatever their ages.

The constant pro-euthanasia drumbeat of our modern “culture of death” is astounding. Medically killing the disabled is described as mercy. Starving and thirsting the elderly to death is called compassion. Denying wanted, life sustaining medical treatment to the chronically ill is applauded as being a good steward of scarce healthcare dollars.

This push to deny medical treatment to devalued members of our human family is shrouded in the politics of language. Choice and freedom are positive words in our democracy and it is no accident these words are used by those who promote death as some form of social good. Choosing to die is applauded as the “new freedom” – but it is seldom mentioned that this so-called freedom is, in reality, limited to those who are sick or have physical or mental disabilities.




Medically killing people with disabilities is often justified with the phrase “death with dignity.” I cannot overemphasize how offensive the phrase, “death with dignity” is to me. What that really says is that my life as a disabled person lacks dignity – and that I would be better off dead.

I realize many people fear old age, illness and disability. As a fifteen-year-old, I saw a severely disabled man and distinctly remember thinking; “I would rather be dead than live like that.” I was sincere, but wrong. After fifty-plus years in a wheelchair, I understand that personal happiness, value and self-worth have no relation to someone’s degree of physical perfection.

Sadly, this “physical perfection truth” is now common in our society. Definitions are upgraded to reflect this. “Terminal” used to mean that a patient would die even with lifesaving treatment. Now, it means one will die without the application of life-sustaining-treatment. This is a game changer for people with disabilities as well as those with age-related medical needs. 




The Veterans Administration labels disability as terminal if it is nonreversible: “Terminal illness, as defined herein, includes but is not limited to, conditions where death is imminent, as well as chronic and debilitating conditions from which there is no reasonable hope for recovery.”

I have a chronic and debilitating condition from which there is no reasonable hope for recovery – as do many thousands of our disabled veterans.

This nation has become a perilous place for all devalued people who find themselves living in a culture that now sees therapeutic killing as a viable medical treatment. 

The right to die is quickly becoming the duty to die. The pool of death always expands, and when a price is put on life, the price goes down. We have gone down this road before and the outcome was catastrophic. The intrinsic value of life must once again be embraced before it is too late.

Our future depends on it.




Wayne Cockfield is a euthanasia expert for SC Citizens for Life. He is the VP for Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee and he worked as a United Nations NGO* on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.



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Is this The Onion? February 13, 2024 at 1:57 pm


That was hilarious. Conservatives are terrified of the weirdest non-existent stuff.

Nanker Phelge February 13, 2024 at 3:14 pm

Thank you for your service, and stop being a drama queen.

Nobody is “pressured” into signing DNRs.

How? February 13, 2024 at 4:35 pm

If you guys have not sat in his chair and been where he has been, just how do you know he has never been pressured into signing DNR’s?

Ginger Dunn Top fan February 13, 2024 at 5:03 pm

Mr. Cockfield,
Thank you for serving our country. I’m sorry for the price you paid. Please keep sharing your thoughts on this issue. I agree there is a disturbing trend in the public mindset regarding those with disabilities. We need more voices like yours.

Your Experience May Vary February 14, 2024 at 8:32 am

The key difference here is that the patient should be the ultimate key holder when it comes to euthanasia. Some people want to live, even if it means living with a new normal. Some people are actually suffering and just want a humane way to escape their torment. There should be strong laws to prevent people from being pressured into making a choice but people should be allowed a “death with dignity” option if they feel that is the only right option for them.

I think two cases come to mind where conservatives really felt they were in the right to demand a continuation of life in a scenario where there was never any hope: Terri Schiavo, whose CT scans are just gut wrenching, and Charlie Gard, an infant whose mitochondrial disease caused violent, likely extremely painful seizures that ripped his brain and muscles apart. I’ve heard the conservative arguments for both of these and yet when I look into them further than most conservatives’ surface level understanding, I see nothing but horrors inflicted upon those people in a vain attempt at humans playing God.

So no, don’t force euthanasia on people who are happy with how their lives are, but maybe realize that it is the most humane option for a minority of people and don’t be a douche about it.

MCP February 14, 2024 at 1:02 pm

Thank you for your service. I agree that nursing homes and assisted living facilities push DNRs too often. I have not seen that in hospitals as much, and that should never be suggested by a hospital unless a Doctor advises there is no possibility of recovery. (In SC DNRs must be given in consultation with a physician) Unless you have terminal cancer or some other incurable disease that will result in suffering before death a DNR is rarely appropriate. In SC we allow for a health care power of attorney that will allow for family members to make decisions on termination of life support based on the situation if that is what a person wants and it even offers the keep me on life support or tube feeding option.

I think euthanasia is a strong term We don’t have that in the US. That is where health care is withheld because of age or condition regardless of what the patient wants. Now in the US if you are uninsured or poor, it may be hard to find a competent healthcare provider who will take you and that is a capitalist form of euthanasia, that most Republicans fully support.

Ralph Hightower Top fan February 19, 2024 at 11:20 am

When I was recovering from emergency surgery in the ICU, my wife asked that my status be changed to DNR. The surgeon said that was the appropriate decision. I concur with her decision. Since I was already incubated, the decision was for me to remain so. September 30, 2021, I was damned near death.


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