Kevin Yuill: Me Before You is fiction, but so are most arguments for assisted suicide

Alex Schadenberg, International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Kevin Yuill

Kevin Yuill

Kevin Yuill, a history professor at Sunderland University, wrote an excellent article that was published in the Telegraph today. Yuill's argues that Me Before You is simply one of many fictional stories about assisted suicide, but then he also states that arguments supporting assisted suicide are also fictionally based. Yuill writes:

There is an outbreak of fictional assisted suicides, of which the film released this week, Me Before You, is simply the most recent example. Before, we had Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Inside, One True Thing, and episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls, Coronation Street, and Hollyoaks. Such a plot-device is neither new nor "taboo-busting" – that taboo has been well and truly busted. 
It is interesting that the case for assisted suicide exists more in the fevered imagination of authors and screenwriters than in reality. Only a handful of Britons kill themselves in Swiss assisted suicide clinics every year; the rate of fictional representations to people actually killing themselves in Switzerland must be nearly 1:1. But Me Before You has sparked protests, mostly from disabled groups, because it implicitly asks the question: If you were quadriplegic (or severely disabled), would/should you kill yourself? 
Of course, the film is fiction and not particularly imaginative fiction at that, but there is a real context to the unease of groups of disabled activists like Not Dead Yet who have protested outside cinemas.

Yuill outlines some of the information from his book: Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization (2015) 

The whole case for assisted suicide is fictional. Rather than empathy, it is based on anxiety in the worried well. “I’d rather die than suffer like you do”, some actually say out loud to disabled people, who, in my experience are a feisty lot who enjoy (and all too often must fight for) their lives. There are real disabled lives – and there is the narcissistic projection of gloomy imaginings onto the disabled. 

Link to the full article

Netherlands euthanasia clinic approves lethal injection for a woman who was sexually abused as a child

Alex Schadenberg, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

On May 14, the Daily Mail reported that a 45 year old woman, known as "Jackie," was approved for euthanasia based on psychiatric issues related to sexually abuse.

"Jackie" is the most recent case in a trend of increasing numbers of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands combined with increasing numbers of euthanasia deaths for psychiatric reasons.

The 2015 Netherlands euthanasia report stated that there were 5561 reported euthanasia deaths in 2015, up from 5306 in 2014, there were 109 reported euthanasia deaths for dementia, up from 81 in 2014, and there were 56 reported euthanasia deaths for psychiatric reasons, up from 41 in 2014.

News about this recent case comes after the shocking case of a physically healthy woman, in her 20's, died by euthanasia in the Netherlands for psychiatric reasons related to being sexually abused. 

According to the Daily Mail article by Sue Reid, in the most recent case, Jackie's sister stated:

This follows a traumatic childhood experience when she was sexually abused at five years old and developed depression as a result.

The Daily Mail reported that the euthanasia clinic received 1234 requests and was responsible for 36 of the 56 psychiatric euthanasia deaths in 2015.

Earlier this year, a study examining 66 cases of euthanasia for psychiatric reasons uncovered several significant concerns. The report indicated that women represented 70% of the psychiatric deaths. The researchers noted that controversial cases included:

a woman in her 70s without health problems had decided, with her husband, that they would not live without each other. After her husband died, she lived a life described as a "living hell" that was "meaningless." 
A consultant reported that this woman "did not feel depressed at all. She ate, drank and slept well. She followed the news and undertook activities."

The "End of Life" euthanasia clinic opened March 2012 with mobile euthanasia units in order to offer death to people who were either turned down by their doctor, or they people who lack mobility, sucha as people with disabilities and the frail elderly.

According to the Daily Mail article the first case of psychiatric euthanasia was also controversial:

After the clinic opened in 2012, its first psychiatric patient was a 54-year-old woman who had mysophobia (a pathological fear of germs or dirt). She, like other End Of Life patients, was killed at home after first being injected with a strong sedative and then a muscle relaxant which stops the heart. 
Gerty Casteelen, one of the clinic's psychiatrists, conducted eight hours of interviews with her before deciding that she really wished to die. 'It was a long process', the medic recalls. 'I came to understand that her fears completely controlled her life. 
'All she could do all day was clean. It was impossible for her to maintain a relationship. Her whole development had stalled.'

Other psychiatric euthanasia deaths attributed to the Netherlands euthanasia clinic include a woman who was going blind and obsessed with cleanliness

The Supreme Court of Canada stated in its Carter decision that euthanasia could be permitted for physical and psychological suffering. They did not define psychological suffering.

Canadians should be concerned that we are following the Dutch path.

Further reading:

Lets focus on aid in living, not aid in dying

The Baltimore Sun recently published an op-ed by Samantha Craine, the legal director for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, titled: Aid in living, not dying. Many people have bought into the theory of euthanasia, without recognizing the reality. Please read this article. (Alex Schadenberg)

O.J. Brigance, former Baltimore Raven

O.J. Brigance, former Baltimore Raven

By Samantha Craine

Around the country we have seen a concerted effort by special interest groups to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, including legislation introduced in Maryland.Although these groups claim to be speaking for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, no major nationwide disability rights groups support physician-assisted suicide. In fact, these laws make people with disabilities more vulnerable and reinforce the damaging perception that life with a disability is "undignified" and not worth living.

Although assisted suicide advocates claim that their legislation is about terminal illness and not disability, many of the arguments presented in favor of such physician-assisted-suicide legislation here and around the country assert a supposed "indignity" in needing help to eat, move, breathe or take medications. These arguments are rooted in a belief that it is better to die than to depend on others for assistance.

This belief is so pervasive that many people who become disabled find themselves struggling with suicidal thoughts. These thoughts may stem from the feeling that one is a burden on family members, fear of being placed in an institutional setting like a nursing home, or isolation as a result of lack of in-home supports. Moreover, people with disabilities are at heightened risk of abuse, isolation and exploitation.

Link to the full article

Assisted dying report goes beyond scope, ignores evidence

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

On February 25, the Special Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying released its report advising the government what to include in the euthanasia legislation in Canada. 

The Supreme Court struck down Canada's assisted suicide law(February 6, 2015) and have now given parliament until June 6, 2016 to implement a new law.

Similar to the Provincial-Territorial panel report that was intentionally loaded with pro-euthanasia activists, the federal committee recommended euthanasia for people with dementia, minors, for people with psychiatric conditions and without effective oversight.

EPC legal counsel and constitutional expert, Hugh Scher, called the committee proposal "a dangerous social policy experiment."

On Saturday, February 27; the Globe Mail published an excellent commentary by constitutional lawyer, David Baker, who represented national disability groups in the assisted suicide case at the Supreme Court and Trudo Lemmens, University of Toronto Professor in health law and policy at the Faculty of Law. 

Baker and Lemmens effectively argue that the Assisted Dying report goes beyond the scope of the Supreme Court decision, and that they also ignored evidence.

Link to the full article

Hollywood Promotes The Idea It Is Better To Be Dead Than Disabled

This article was written by Dominic Evans and published on his blog on Feb 11, 2016. 

Few films make me as upset as The Sea Inside. It has been years since the first time I saw the 2004 Alejandro Amenábar vehicle, which stars Javier Bardem, as a real-life disabled man named Ramón Sampedro, a Spanish man who believed it was better to be dead than disabled. Rather than portraying disability in a way that would open up dialogue about why disabled people feel that way, and addressing the greater issue of how society views disability, the film is a testament as to why non-disabled people should pity the disabled community, especially those who are as disabled as Ramón Sampedro, and support his decision to end his life, even if his disability was not fatal, which it was not.

We look to film and television for how to treat others, how to understand others, and to learn about stories about people we don’t actually know. The majority of non-disabled people do not know someone with a disability. This is in spite of disability be the world’s largest minority community with numbers between 1 billion worldwide. A lot of this is because disabled people have been kept away, out of public essentially sequestered to the back bedroom, until the early to mid-20th century, when disabled activists started fighting for their rights to go to school, find employment, and anything else non-disabled counterparts were doing. If not stuck in the back bedroom, others were performing in freak shows, the objects of pity and awe…never of understanding or relatability.

Around a century has passed, and society still doesn’t know how to deal with disabled people. Hollywood doesn’t know how to tell disabled stories, so it falls back upon tired tropes that often involve pity or awe. This trope is so common, many activists look out for it in any new forms of media that includes disability. Even as the world becomes more tolerant of other differences, the pity narrative for disabled characters continues. The Sea Inside came out over a decade ago, and yet we still have not evolved enough beyond the harmful message embedded in this film.

Link to the full article

A five-year-old girl and family plead with the Prime Minister of Canada: say 'no' to euthanasia

Media Release - Montreal - December 16, 2015. (Link to the Canada News wire release)

As Canada moves in the direction of legalizing euthanasia, and some provinces are discussing extending euthanasia to children, Sylvain, Sherley and five-year-old Jolyanne's message to the Prime Minister of Canada is simple. For the sake of families, please do not support euthanasia. Sylvain and Sherley believe euthanasia is dangerous. They are convinced that those who cannot fight will be persuaded to give up too quickly and, in some cases, euthanize their loved ones. As Sylvain says in this heart-touching video, if he had listened to the doctors' advice when everything looked so grim, he would now be alone without the two women he loves most in his life—his wife Sherley and his precious daughter Jolyanne.

Sylvain and Sherley are a Canadian couple living near Montreal who were faced with many of these pressures. They were discouraged from continuing the pregnancy of their future daughter, Jolyanne, at 27 weeks of pregnancy because they were told she would be a Down's baby (erroneous diagnosis) with a malformed esophagus (esophageal atresia). Despite the many medical challenges, Jolyanne thrives today and is the joy of Sylvain's and Sherley's life.

Only two years after Jolyanne was born, Sherley was in a coma and on life support because of pneumonia. Sylvain was told his wife's chances of survival were extremely poor. He was also told that if Sherley survived, she would have no quality of life. The doctors pressured him to disconnect his wife from life support. Despite the pressures, he fought back to save his wife's life.

Quebec passed a law on June 5, 2014 to permit euthanasia. In 2013, prior to the law being passed, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Commission recommended extending euthanasia to children. A recently released report from an Ontario advisory group is also recommending children be free to "choose" euthanasia.

In this controversy, physicians and patients have been speaking out against euthanasia for many reasons: 

  • Euthanasia is not medical care,
  • Euthanasia contradicts a physician's code of conduct, which does not permit a doctor to intentionally end a person's life even if that person requests it,
  • A person with a serious medical condition is often depressed and has clouded judgment,
  • There are financial and social pressures,
  • There are diagnostic errors,
  • There are errors in predicting outcomes of a medical condition,
  • Euthanasia criteria always expands. It begins with adults, then extends to children. At first only terminal illnesses are allowed, but later chronic ailments are accepted. Initially those suffering physically are selected, but the door opens wide to include the depressed.
  • Palliative care relieves pain and suffering without prematurely ending a person's life but is, unfortunately, not available to the majority of Canadians. Thus, there is no free choice.

Prime Minister Trudeau, you do have a choice. Euthanasia is currently being challenged in the courts of Quebec. It is still illegal in Canada. On behalf of five-year-old Jolyanne and her family and many others, please save Canadian lives by saying 'no' to euthanasia.

Source Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice.

For further information:
Dr Paul Saba, (514) 886-3447, pauljsaba@gmail.com

Ian Dowbiggin: A scandal in the euthanasia archives - continued

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Ian Dowbiggin

Ian Dowbiggin

Ian Dowbiggin's article - A scandal in the euthanasia archives - was published in the Prince Arthur Herald on November 30, 2015. Dowbiggin, who is the author of the book: A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America, a history professor at UPEI and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada asks - Why has the euthanasia movement hidden or destroyed its history?

Today, the Prince Arthur Herald has published a follow-up article where Dowbiggin responds to an article by Stuart Chambers, a professor at the University of Ottawa, who challenges Dowbiggin's assertion with ad hominem arguments. Dowbiggin responds:

First, let’s dispense with that old canard, used by euthanasia enthusiasts like Chambers, that opponents of euthanasia are all “sanctity of life” proponents. It simply isn’t true; just ask disabilities groups which oppose euthanasia. Nor is it only Christians involved; Islam, Hinduism and many strands of Judaism condemn both assisted suicide and mercy-killing. 
When the euthanasia movement was propagandizing in favour of involuntary mercy-killing for either the good of the species or the economic welfare of society, there was no consensus supporting euthanasia. 
Quite the contrary; there was widespread opposition to this policy. Yet the movement forged ahead in defiance of experts from across the political spectrum and scripted its sorry history. 
Indeed, that is my very point about the euthanasia archives scandal. Chambers and his allies don’t want to open up the topic of their own shady history. If I were in their shoes, I might feel the same way. Their attempts to change public opinion depend on keeping their past under wraps. 
Lastly, Chambers says that even if euthanasia advocates had made mistakes in the past, all is well today. “Euthanasia lobbyists,” he reassures us, could never “maneuver” around the “checks and balances” of euthanasia laws and kill people with disabilities. 

Link to the full article