When he was 19, Anthony Orefice hit a telephone pole on his motorcycle going 100 miles per hour. Doctors told his family he wouldn’t survive. He did, but the accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, unable to do what he loved — surf, snowboard or ride dirt bikes.
“All you are thinking is the worst, worst, worst – everything you can’t do,” said Orefice, who lives in Valencia, Calif. “I wanted to be dead.”
More than two decades after breaking his back, Orefice, 40, is married, has a 7-year-old son and owns a medical supply business. He also counsels patients newly disabled from spinal cord injuries. “Depression,” he often tells them, “is part of the healing process.”
As California legislators consider a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to get prescriptions to end their lives, disability rights advocates are speaking up in opposition. They worry that if it becomes law, depression and incorrect prognoses may lead people with serious disabilities to end their lives prematurely.
The bill poses “considerable dangers” to people with new disabilities who may have suicidal thoughts, said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. “It would almost be too easy to make an irrevocable choice,” she said. “It could lead to people giving up on treatment and losing good years of their lives.”
Golden added that the many people who initially received terminal diagnoses have “lived full lives [for] years or even decades” longer than expected.
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