Bill Peace Has Died

Bill Peace, wearing orange shirt
By Margaret Dore, Eulogy by Diane Coleman

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with Bill Peace in Seattle. Below please find a eulogy by our mutual friend, Diane Coleman, of Not Dead Yet:

By now, many who read this message will know that Bill Peace died not long after midnight this morning. In the hours since, the outpouring of both grief over our loss and celebration of his life is nothing short of incredible. He has been one of an increasingly rare breed of academics who embrace disability activism. The countless lives he touched – his students, his colleagues, his friends, his family (his personal family and very extended disability family) – are a testament to his amazing ability to communicate and advocate for our fundamental civil rights.

Bill’s Facebook page is full of memories and tributes today, including stories and articles, like this wonderful profile in New Mobility Magazine. Here’s an excerpt concerning his work on bioethics issues:

The Underlying Problem: Devalued Lives

In 2006, Peace’s career took a sharp turn after he read about the Ashley treatment. The treatment was a series of procedures performed, at the request of her parents, on a Seattle child with developmental disabilities named “Ashley X.” The surgeries were intended to stunt her growth, eliminate menstruation and prevent her from developing large breasts.

It was a wake up call for Peace. “It wasn’t what they did that was horrible, it was that there was a 38-person bioethics meeting at one of the leading children’s hospitals in the nation, and they gave it the go-ahead,” he says. “They illegally sterilized a profoundly disabled child.” Soon after, he began work in bioethics and disability studies, while becoming a harsh critic of the cure industry.

Little did Peace know, but his work in bioethics would hit very close to home. In 2010, he was hospitalized with a stage IV pressure sore. After an especially difficult debridement, a hospitalist encouraged him to discontinue the aggressive treatment and pursue end-of-life care. Peace refused the offer but the experience shattered him. “Somebody I had never met determined my life wasn’t worth living,” he says.

It took almost two years to heal the wound, but Peace vowed to advocate against assisted suicide. The reason for doing so was simple. “People are needlessly dying, and there’s no nuanced view of disability within the medical community,” he says. He joined the board of directors of the advocacy group Not Dead Yet, and since then has become a leading national critic of the practice of assisted suicide.

Bill joined the NDY board in 2013. The year before, NDY reported on his groundbreaking article in a leading bioethics journal about that middle-of-the-night visit from a hospital physician recommending that he consider dying rather than receiving antibiotics for his pressure wound. The journal article is now behind a pay wall, but excerpts remain available in the NDY blogs and Bill told the story in his Bad Cripple Blog....

Recently, complications developed from new pressure wounds, but the hospital that cared for him in these last several days was described by his family as respectful, showing the utmost kindness and trying very hard to save him from the infection that has taken him from us.