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How the 2014 Australian Budget made me ‘Check my Privilege’

You can’t buy much with seven dollars. Maybe a large fancy frappuccino Starbucks coffee, or a sandwich. To me, $7 is nothing. I just spent $7 on a bumblebee costume for my cat. So why is this GP $7 co-payment such a big deal? Why are people so up in arms about university becoming more expensive? Or having to wait 6 months to receive financial assistance from the government?

This latest Liberal government has made me ‘check my privilege’. As much as I hate that phrase, it perfectly sums up my thought process over the last few weeks. Now by no means am I using $100 notes as toilet paper, but I’m very financially comfortable, and have been for most of my life. My financial stability is mainly provided by my parents, as I’m still living at home and only have a part time job. I pay board, and I finance all my own purchases and socialising activities. Ideally I would have liked to have moved out of home by now, but I have a debilitating physical disability which makes working full time difficult and living independently close to impossible. I am very thankful to the Australian government who has provided me with a Disability Support Pension since I was 18, and I’ve never taken it for granted.

Despite my disability, I’ve had a very privileged life. I received a $12,000 academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree, and my parents and I went halves in paying for my Honours degree, so I have no HECs debt. I physically can’t drive, so I don’t have a car or petrol to pay for (although it does cost me $30 to get to university and back every visit, but that’s a complaint for another day). I don’t have to think twice about how to pay for things I need or want. I feel guilty admitting that because I know for the majority of people in Australia, and even around the world, this isn’t the case. I’ve always known that I was lucky in this way. I don’t consider myself ‘spoilt’ as my parents have instilled a very hard work ethic in their children, and we’ve always had to work for our money. Whether that was chores when we were kids, or getting a part time job when we were teenagers (I worked around my disability as a young teenager by making and selling jewellery at the markets), we were never given money, nor did we expect it from our parents.

‘I’ve worked hard for my money’ is a sound-bite often thrown around by millionaires. Before the budget came out, I thought this about my situation too. But after listening to and reading people’s stories about how the budget drastically will affect their lives, I realise that it is absolute bullshit. How is being raised in an upper middle class family, having my university paid for, going on overseas holidays, and being at university for 6 years ‘working hard’? I’ve been given every opportunity I could want. My education has been great, and although my need for healthcare has been quite extensive due to my disability, my parents have always been able to pay for my blood tests, heart scans, hospital stays, and medication.

This is why I was initially puzzled over the uproar about $7 payments to see a GP. Why was it such a big deal? Seven dollars is nothing. It wasn’t until I started to read about the backlash that I truly considered what seven dollars might be to a single mother who only makes enough to cover rent, food and power, or a pensioner relying on government assistance to survive. Then I started finding statistics about average incomes in Australia (this breakdown helped put it in perspective: http://mattcowgill.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/what-is-the-typical-australians-income-in-2013/). Without revealing my parent’s income, I discovered I was within the top 1% of the nation. I was genuinely shocked. How had I been sheltered from this reality my whole life? I thought we were just a comfortable middle class family. I really hope that this blog post doesn’t come across as bragging or ‘poor little rich girl’, because that is not my intent. I am just attempting to explain how my privilege has blinded me from some realities in life, and how eye opening these past few weeks have been.

Being raised in such an individualistic, capitalist and classist society can really warp your view of the world. I still react to stories of poverty with ‘well why don’t you just work harder/get a better job?’. It’s deeply ingrained and I’ve only just started to question it. It’s very embarrassing to admit to myself just how privileged I am in this aspect of life, but I hope by continuing to seek out more information and people’s stories I can understand and help others to as well.

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My response to Stella Young – Some things are worse than death

It’s hard to disagree with someone you’ve always admired and respected as an intellectual and advocate for causes close to your heart. I experienced significant cognitive dissonance whilst reading the wonderful Stella Young’s article on voluntary euthanasia ‘Disability – a fate worse than death?’ (http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2013/10/18/3872088.htm). My primitive brain couldn’t wrap itself around the surprise that came with reading about Stella’s opposition to legalising assisted death in any form. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great article with some points that did make me question my stance, but my vehement support for voluntary euthanasia held on.

I believe in humans being able to make their own decisions, as long as these decisions don’t harm others. Take drugs, get fat, get tattoos, have an abortion, swear, refuse medical treatment, or dance naked, I don’t care, just don’t hurt others if you decide to do so. I do acknowledge that some of these actions could indirectly hurt others, such as family and friends suffering with a loved one’s drug addiction, but I do believe that’s their choice. As someone with a lifelong debilitating disability (muscular dystrophy), choice is one of the most important things in life for me. I’ve been stripped of many choices in life; I didn’t choose to be in a wheelchair, I didn’t choose to have others help me with everyday activities, and I didn’t choose to suffer from the mental illnesses that come from this loss of choice. I didn’t choose this life; I was just an unfortunate participant in the genetic lottery. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fantastic life. I have loving friends and family, I’ve had a great education, and I’m a generally happy and content person.

I just want the choice to control my own life and more importantly, my own death.

Stella stresses the misconceptions that the general public have about people with disabilities and their apparent quality of life. She’s right; most people assume that a disabled life would be unbearable. There’s a prejudice, but unfortunately this prejudice is sometimes accurate. Some disabled people’s lives are shit. There’s no sugar coating it. There’s no amount of therapy, help or positivity that can change some people’s circumstances. If this is truly the case for some people, why not give them the CHOICE to end their lives with dignity? There are some things worth than death, and being in great pain, discomfort and misery are some of them.

Of course this doesn’t mean that everyone with a disability should kick the bucket. That’s the beauty of voluntary euthanasia, it’s voluntary. This is why I can’t see how someone could be opposed to it. It is a personal choice that an individual will make, having considered all the options, and being deemed mentally fit to do so. The rules will need to be incredibly strict to avoid what Stella discusses in terms of discrimination and ill treatment from medical professionals, I agree with her wholeheartedly with that.

I think assisted suicide is the next step in bettering our society. Death is an important part of life. We need to remove the taboo and fear around it. I believe that everyone, regardless of disability, should be able to choose when and how they die. I definitely want to be able to control my own passing. My particular type of MD deteriorates my muscles over time, rendering them weak and essentially useless. There is no set diagnosis for me. I don’t know what my condition with be like in 6 months, a year, or a decade. When it gets to the point where I feel excessively debilitated and I have no quality of life, I’d like to be able to choose to die comfortably. I will inform my family and friends that it’s my choice and that yes, it will be upsetting, but continuing living would be even more upsetting for me.

I know it seems morbid for a young woman to be planning her own death, but I’m not scared of death. Without getting too philosophical or deep, I don’t see death as the end. I’m not religious at all, but I take comfort in the fact that the atoms that made up who I am will then be redistributed into the universe, from where they came. I’ve always been open about my desire for an assisted death when the time comes. My family is well aware of my wishes and accept my reasons. They love me enough to support my choice.

That’s what it is; a choice. A choice we need to offer those who want it.