Australia – Great Essay: Looking at the Bigger Picture Regarding Euthanasia

There’s been a lot written over the past week in response to the news of the double euthanasia of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, the 45-year-old twins who were deaf and losing their vision.

So far, my favorite is from Craig Wallace, President of People with Disability Australia (PWDA).  On January 21st, Ramp-Up, ABC Australia‘s site dedicated to disability issues, published an opinion essay by Wallace titled “Euthanasia: let’s look at the bigger picture.”

Wallace examines the treatment of the Verbessem twins’ deaths and other suicides – something I and others have done in the past.  To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever done it quite as well as Wallace does in his essay:

It is significant that the focus of articles about euthanasia and end of life planning like this one in The Australian hastily drift into how much it costs the community to keep people with intensive support needs going. How quickly compassion dies and the calculators come out.

In the current world of rationed care and economic rationalism, it is not hard to imagine a situation where the availability of euthanasia becomes seen as a cheaper, easier, ‘rational’ option to providing intensive support, community living and care for those most vulnerable. Instead of having the support to make well-considered choices, the services that make life bearable could fall away and people with disabilities could be levered into taking their lives as the default option.

Euthanasia can become a euphemism which sanitises what is, essentially, suicide. It is hard to see what separated euthanasia from suicide for Mark and Eddy, except they had a disability.

Suicide is not a lifestyle option. It’s the end of any choice, good or bad. It’s choice denying. Also, suicide is handled in a very careful way by the media – it is often unreported to discourage copycat deaths and published articles usually carry warnings.

Suicide is something society discourages for every group of people. Except when they are talking about people with disabilities. No suggestions to call Lifeline or get help in articles like this one – instead we are told “they were very happy” and “it was a relief”. The doctor who helped the twins take their lives reportedly described their end as a “gift”.

What does it say about the perceived value of people with disabilities when our deaths are described in clinical terms and counted as a blessing?

People take their lives for all sorts of reasons – they might be bankrupt, old, ill, lonely, overworked, trapped in poverty, abused, addicted, confused about their sexuality, at the sharp edge of family breakdown, in shame or at the end of a long set of bad life experiences.

If suicide is a gift for one group of people who feel their lives have become unbearable, then why not for everyone who feels like this? Imagine the reaction if someone wrote about the tragic, senseless death of UK nurse Jacintha Saldanha and described it as a “relief”.

For those with a short memory – I confess to being one of them – here’s a reminder via wikipedia, about the death of Jacintha Saldanha:

Jacintha Saldanha was a nurse who worked at King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes, London. She was found dead by apparent suicide, three days after receiving a hoax call. The prank call was part of the Australian radio programme Hot30 Countdown, broadcast on the Austereo-owned station 2Day FM. In it, the hosts impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles enquiring about the health of the Duchess of Cambridge, who was, at the time, a patient staying at the hospital. Saldhana fell for the hoax and transferred the call to the nurse looking after the Duchess. A hospital spokesperson said that she was the “victim of a cruel journalistic trick”.

Please go read the entire essay.  Craig Wallace has put together a concise statement of some of the uglier realities hiding behind the “sympathy” directed at disabled people who want to kill themselves (or want to be killed) and to contrast the reactions of the media and the public to stories like the Belgian double euthanasia to other stories about suicide.

Please go visit the article and read it here.  And consider leaving a comment.  I plan to after I finish posting this.


6 thoughts on “Australia – Great Essay: Looking at the Bigger Picture Regarding Euthanasia

  1. I saw “Soylent Green”, sci fi fiction on DVD a couple of years ago (yes, very late but hey, I’m homebound with severe ME/CFS and I didn’t have a DVD working drawer in a computer until then). Great movie. Just substitute us, the disabled for old, which is the plot spoiler of the movie and it’s about “us” (although some of “us” are both disabled and old now).

  2. #2 Stephen,
    Yes, this Aussie’s essay on the big picture is wonderful, but so have been yours. He’s had a longer time to synthesize all the writing, thoughts of activists, world wide to which you have been a major contributor. His work is “grand” in my grandmother’s old favorite word, with double meanings from me. Timely. We need it to go out in the world, obviously.

    As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I had a thought (which is when I often get art ideas). Economists like Prof. Richard Wolff (who often writes on the website), New York based Left critic who is a positive kind of guy, point out that the U.S. is the richest country in the world. There is no economic crisis and why the “austerity” dreams of the Right would make the “Soylent Green” scenario and the essay’s economic choices for us seem “reality” based.

    1. Thanks, Sanda. I *am* proud of the work I’ve done, and part of the way I try to stay in good form is to retain the ability to recognize when someone has written an argument so well I find myself *I’d* written it. I’m thrilled when I find people doing work that – IMO – outshines some or all of my own efforts in the same area. Recognizing those efforts and learning from them is – to me – an important part of avoiding getting stuck in conceptual and rhetorical ruts.

  3. This is where I chose to be in the moments immediately after hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on my radio, laying on my bed.

    Heck, there is no best way to say this. Spend a couple of minutes thinking about Beethoven couldn’t hear the singer, nor the orchestra when he composed the music nor when he produced the premier of the piece of music, after hiring the hall, hiring the orchestra and singers, getting tickets printed. He kept his profound disability secret at this point in his life because he feared the reactions of people in the music world.

    Now put your awe at this man’s only hearing the music in his head, in his mind, not thru his ears into the context of his health in deterioration, digestive problems, money problems, and the drive towards suggesting people who are disabled commit suicide.

    (I shall ignore silly statements like, “Well, every disabled baby, youngster, adult, old person is not Beethoven.” because it won’t work.)

    And one other thought: when former NYC Mayor Ed Koch was in and out of hospital from September until he died a couple of days ago, did anyone say, in the media, in government, “Oh, spare this 88 year old man the indignity of having to keep going back to the hospital with serious heart ailments, so do euthanasia/”mercy killing” on Ed Koch? I think not. Why? Because he had money, fame? Maybe.

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