The Debate About Euthanasia

by Lateef H. McLeod

Recently there has been a resurgence of debate of whether or not euthanasia is a viable ethical option for people with disabilities. Proponents of euthanasia stress that since all Americans have the right to life and have the authority of how to end it. They argue that it is better to end their life now instead of waiting until they need palliative care. They also argue that an early death will avoid their family and loved ones from having to pay expensive medical costs to take care of them. This self-centered line of argument goes well with the American value of being self-reliant and the abhorrence of being a burden to taken care of by others. It continues to reinforce the dominant stereotype that a non-able bodied life is not worth living.

There are many reasons why this euthanasia debate is ableist in nature. The California Foundation For Independent Living Centers delve into some of the reasons on their website. They state that euthanasia statutes are aimed at eliminating the bureaucratic red tape that prevents terminal ill patients from ending their lives and will also make it easier for people with non-terminal disabilities to argue conditions where they would be justified in taking to take their lives. This type of argument should be avoided at all costs. It promotes the narrative that some disabilities are too difficult to live with and people thus impaired should have suicide as an option at their disposal. This type of argument is insulting and demeaning to people with those disabilities who decide it is better to live with their condition.

This narrative has drastic negative consequences. We just have to look at the case of George Hodgins, a young man with autism who was fatally shot by his mother, Elizabeth Hodgins, who then committed suicide. Besides the story being tragic, it provides the example of how the euthanasia narrative leads this mother to do this heinous deed.  She most likely thought that the responsibility of taking care of her son sat squarely on her shoulders and did not ask or take the offered support of family, friends, and community members. Too often disability is seen in our culture as a personal issue or something that the intermediate family has to deal with.

The devaluing of the lives people with disabilities that euthanasia debate proposes has wider consequences in society. A person with disabilities could be deemed expendable where an able-bodied person would not be. This is evident in the case of Stephon Watts, a fifteen-year-old boy with autism who the police shot to death in front of his home.  As in many other instances, the police thought they had a right to murder Stephon even though he only had a butter knife and could not begin to be a threat to the police officers present.  The police reaction to the situation illustrates the disregard for life, as they could not resolve the confrontation without murdering the boy.   No doubt if Stephon was able-bodied or even a lighter hue, more effort from the police would be given to more peacefully resolve the situation. The history of devaluing people with disabilities influenced by the euthanasia debate gave the police license to use the lethal force they deemed necessary to quell a minor domestic dispute. The lack of amount of coverage this story received from community groups or from the news media even after the national uproar over the tragedy of the similar Trayvon Martin case exemplifies people’s reluctance to validate and protest when people with disabilities are murdered unjustly by individuals or by the state.

Euthanasia is used in this culture as an argument for not identifying or accommodating for the lives and struggles of people with disabilities. Society already dismisses people with disabilities as being either the heroic person who achieved to great heights in despite of his or her challenges, the helpless person whose disability causes them to be a drain on society, or the expendable exemplified by the euthanasia debate that basically argues that people with disabilities are better off dead than alive.  We in the disability community need to change this narrative and keep illustrating that our diverse and complex lives are worth living.

9 thoughts on “The Debate About Euthanasia

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s good to read about euthanasia from the point of view of someone living with disability. I invite you to read euthanasia from my point of view as a nurse on my blog We need to unite to speak out against this crime.

  2. Thanks you for not forgetting about Stephon. I am now realizing my brother’s case impacts more than what we thought. There are very valuable lessons that can be learned from Stephon and if our community doesn’t wake up and do something to create change Stephon died in vain! PS. He was 15 not 17. Thank you again for not forgetting about Stephon! JUSTICEFORSTEPHONWATTS.COM

  3. Public ignorance of autism is bad enough, but the medical community itself is still learning and has room for improvement. Stephon’s case fits the description of a physiological condition now called “immature adrenaline systems overreactivity”. In a nutshell it means their control over their own behavior is limited, and their behavior can be significantly and abnormally affected in some situations. This is a new diagnosis and it has a new treatment regimine.

    In Stephon’s example, “Flight/fright” might have been the result of immature adrenaline systems overreactivity. “Flight/fright” behaviors are often misassociated with a mental illness, or in some cases are even misdiagnosed as a mental illness. Patients of various disorders are predisposed to this condition, not just autism. “Flight/fright” is simply a physiological state or condition to which some patients are more susceptible and not at all a part of a mental illness.

    Immature adrenaline systems overreactivity can be easily treated and managed with adrenaline acting medications instead of psychotropic drugs. This new treatment sometimes leads to rapid improvement, and obviously fewer risks of side effects since it may mean reduction in the amount of psychotropic drugs taken by the patient. Also, this new treatment offers the probability of the patient eventually learning better self control (maturing their reactions in adrenaline-impacting situations) and being able to cease taking medication for it.

    The medical community is not yet aware of this new diagnosis because it is fairly new and comes from a doctor in the field treating patients rather than from a ‘double blind drug study’. This new diagnosis was therefore not covered by DSM-IV, nor will it be covered by DSM-V.

    This new diagnosis and treatment regimine might help other autism patients avoid tragic scenarios in the future if we all help spread the news of it. To learn more, simply google for the book (or website) by Dr Ralph Ankenman, called Hope For The Violently Aggressive Child.

    Please help us help the autism community by sharing this news as widely as you can. We are also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and soon, Youtube.

  4. Pingback: The Death of Al Bing | disabilityrightnow

  5. I think all euthanasia should be stopped. It should be illegal for doctors or staff to take a life. There should be serious consequences for any medical staff who participates in this kind of crime.All dnrs and anything that can shorten a life should be completely illegal. This makes the psychopath doctors jobs too easy and this should not be allowed under any circumtances.As it stands today it is not only the disabled that can be euthanized it is the elder the sick and who ever is convenient. All the doctors have to do is to say the patient has no quality of life and they are killed. So if the doctor or staff gave the patient too many narcotics and the patient does not seem to becoming out of the coma then psychopath doctors can say that the patient has no quality of life and they can take the patients life .I believe that there needs to be stronger laws in the medical field that does not give doctors the right to murder.This is just heinous crime and needs to stop.

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