Let Me Make Up My Own Mind

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Joan Tollifson
Joan Tollifson

Death with Dignity supporter Joan Tollifson sent the email below to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) about her dismay at the direction the organization has taken in recent years.

Dear Friends,

I am an amputee. I worked long ago at Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and was active in the disability rights movement. I was inside the Federal Building for the entire month of the 504 occupation. I have been deeply saddened in recent years to see the disability rights movement, which I love, align itself with the most conservative religious forces in our country and oppose things like assisted death, which I fully support.

I’m 65, and if I end up with a painful, terminal illness, I welcome the right to legally terminate my own life. I’ve been with friends who made this decision, and I know that in Oregon, it cannot be made lightly—there are more safeguards in place and hoops to jump through than you can imagine. I know how deeply grateful those friends were to have this option.

I appreciate the fear people in the disability movement have of being terminated because of their disability. When I was born with one arm, the doctor offered my father a pillow to smother me. But Death with Dignity laws are not a license to kill, nor is anyone advocating that people should ever be forced to end their life in this way.

As a person who should be represented by DREDF and other disability organizations, I find myself on the outside, horrified that organizations I otherwise love are taking such conservative and reactionary positions around issues dear to my heart such as right to die and assisted death.

Obviously, I do not want to exterminate people with disabilities! I just want people like myself to be free to make up our own minds. I’m tired of the religious right trying to control my body and run my life, and the heartbreak of having the disability rights movement now in their corner is beyond words.

I doubt this email will change anyone’s mind, but I at least wanted to express my opinion so you know that you don’t represent everyone with a disability. You don’t represent me or many, many others like me. Please reconsider.

Thanks for listening,

Joan Tollifson
Ashland, OR

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