Cathy Ludlum says she has a great life, but since childhood she's been aware not everyone thinks so.
She remembers being 5, sitting in her wheelchair as people in the supermarket looked at her and shook their heads. She wondered how she could tell them she was not to be pitied.
Years later, in the hospital, Ludlum overheard the staff talking about her, assuming she led a tragic life in an institution, even though the medical chart said otherwise — she lived on her own and ran a consulting business despite a neuromuscular disease that took away her ability to move.
"People like me are at enormous risk when we're in the hospital or otherwise disempowered," Ludlum said.
Ludlum, 47, of Manchester, believes misconceptions about people with severe disabilities can lead medical workers to give them less aggressive lifesaving options. Doctors might think they would not want to live if they were in the patient's condition and assume the patient feels the same, she said. Or medical workers might see a disability as a fatal condition, even if it is not.
That makes her wary of an effort in Connecticut to let terminally ill patients end their lives through medication prescribed by doctors.
Two Fairfield County doctors, backed by a national group, have asked a Superior Court judge to declare that state law does not prohibit doctors from prescribing lethal doses of medication to mentally competent, terminally ill patients who request it. They say doing so is not assisted suicide because the patient is already dying, making the question not if he or she will die, but when.
Ludlum and other advocates for people with disabilities are seeking to intervene in the case.
The concept — giving people in pain control over their dying processes — may sound sympathetic, Ludlum said. But she and other advocates fear the reality will be more complex, and could leave people who have severe disabilities vulnerable. They worry about the law being misapplied — for example, if a person with a disability asks for help dying but is not terminally ill — and about the ideas such a policy would foster about the worthiness of a life lived with diminished capacity.
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Doctors' 'Right-To-Die' Efforts For Terminally Ill Patients Worry Advocates For People With Disabilities