Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not Dead Yet: More on Double Euthanasia in Belgium

January 15, 2013 | posted by Stephen Drake

The 24+ hours since I posted on the double euthanasia of two deaf men in Belgium has resulted in some developments, varied reactions, and some reflection on my own part.  My apologies if this post seems a little scattered – a little like mental  multi-colored pasta thrown against the wall -  but sometimes that’s how my mind works.

First, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) issued a statement from Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the NFB:
“This disturbing news from Belgium is a stark example of the common, and in this case tragic, misunderstanding of disability and its consequences.  Adjustment to any disability is difficult, and deaf-blind people face their own particular challenges, but from at least the time of Helen Keller it has been known that these challenges can be met, and the technology and services available today have vastly improved prospects for the deaf-blind and others with disabilities.  That these men wanted to die is tragic; that the state sanctioned and aided their suicide is frightening.”
You can view the entire release and learn more about the NFB here.

At the same time, I’m sure that others have noticed that there are suicides getting a lot of coverage this week.  The Pentagon reports that deaths by suicide reached a record number in 2012, with more military deaths occurring due to suicide than from combat.  The suicide of programmer/activist/open source advocate Aaron Swartz – apparently overwhelmed by the double effects of depression and what is being called “overreaching” prosecution over his download of millions of journal articles.  He was faced with decades in prison and enormous fines.

Read through the comments on any of the countless articles covering these suicide stories and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone reacting like this:
  • “It’s their body, their choice.”
  • “When people decide they need to end it, they should be able to get help to do so.”
  • “It’s too bad they had to use violent means – animals can get euthanized; we treat animals better than humans.”
The lack of statements like those struck me because they’re common sentiments expressed in article “comments,” and interactions on Facebook when people react to “double euthanasia” of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, the identical twins whose deaths are still making news.

I think that we don’t see those comments in the cases of Aaron Swartz and the military because those people are valued.  I know that euthanasia proponents say that their movement is all about respecting individual choice, but why are the “choices” of  Marc and Eddy Verbessem “respected” while the suicides of military personnel and the suicide of Aaron Swartz are treated as preventable tragedies?  The answer, of course, is that euthanasia isn’t about “respect,” but agreeing that another person’s continued existence is pointless.

The animal comparisons always get me.  I’ve written before (with Dick Sobsey) about the myths surrounding the “kindness” of pet euthanasia.

What struck me this time was an even deeper disconnect.  Anyone who spends a lot of time on the internet knows that cats are probably the most popular thing in existence.  Some of the most popular pictures/videos of cats involve disabled cats – and dogs.  Right now, the most popular cat on the internet seems to be Oskar the Blind Cat:

If you look around, you’ll find stories of a deaf and blind dog rescued from euthanasia and a pet now for seven years and there’s even a story out there about a deaf/blind dog with three legs that rescued his family from a fire.

Oskar has lots of fans.  Stories like the ones about the dogs seem to make people just tear up and feel generally inspired.

But two deaf men losing their vision getting “put down”?  That evokes shrugs and even applause.

I don’t get it.  And I think I’m grateful I don’t.