Bioethics Discussion Blog: “Better Dead Than Disabled”: Bad Date and Bad Balance

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

“Better Dead Than Disabled”: Bad Date and Bad Balance

To be fair, I should give an opposing view to the entire PBS presentation on the suicide issue particularly with regard to the date and the philosophy of the initial broadcast. So here is a
press release by Steven Drake of Not Dead Yet on the eMediaWire. I must say, however, that my postings about the film was about the presentation of personal character of a man, how he rationalized his suicide decision to his family and not about political issues. ..Maurice

Disability Activists Blast PBS for ADA Anniversary Promotion of Better Dead than Disabled Film


Disability activists blast PBS for choosing to air a "better dead than disabled" documentary on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For Immediate Release

(PRWEB) July 25, 2005 -- In an all-too-common feat of cultural insensitivity, PBS has chosen July 26th, the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to air “POV: The Self-Made Man.” The documentary features the videotaped statements of Bob Stern, an elderly man deciding to commit suicide rather than face possible disability, medical uncertainly or complications.

“The choice of this particular air date is an affront to people with disabilities in this country,” says Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group based in Forest Park, IL. “The 15th anniversary of the ADA is, for people with disabilities, the nation’s largest minority, what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is for people of color. Not only is it being ignored by PBS, but the network is featuring and promoting a program about a person so terrified of aging and disability that he commits suicide. In terms of sensitivity to diversity issues, this puts PBS in the same league as the Fox News Channel. And, no, that is not a compliment.”

Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, notes that the film is a slanted portrayal of the broader issues. “Normally, we don’t comment when a rich, privileged guy decides to take his own life. We didn’t comment when Hunter Thompson shot himself. After all, Thompson wasn’t asking for a change in the law, a permission slip, or help from anyone.”

Drake says the situation is different with “The Self-Made Man.” “It’s being promoted as a tool for adding to the public discourse in regard to assisted suicide, an issue confronting the U.S. Supreme Court and legislators in California," he said. "Whether society will treat some suicidal people differently than others is a public policy issue. The film, however, frames the issue as a dispute between religious conservatives and those who “believe in autonomy.”

Coleman and Drake say this ignores the fact that secular disability rights groups have been at the forefront of opposing legalization of assisted suicide. Twelve national disability groups filed an amicus brief supporting the Attorney General in the Gonzalez v. Oregon case currently before the Supreme Court.

Moreover, disability opposition is well known to the official “advisors” to the documentary. Three out of the four credited advisors to the program are long-time assisted suicide/euthanasia advocates: Paul Spiers, ex board Chair of “Compassion and Choices;” Margaret Battin, advisory board of the Death with Dignity National Center; and Dennis Kuby, ex-regional director (California) of the Hemlock Society. These “advisors” could have advised a truthful portrayal of the policy debate, including disability opposition. “Obviously, balance is one thing producer Susan Stern wasn’t looking for,” says Drake.


Contacts:
Stephen Drake 708 209 1500 ext 29
Diane Coleman 708 420 0539

1 Comments:

At Sunday, July 31, 2005 2:42:00 PM, Anonymous Bob Koepp said...

Obviously, given the nature of political advocacy, very few advocates for either of the extreme positions in this debate are "looking for balance."

I sympathize with those in the disability rights movement who believe that permitting assisted suicide, or even more to the point, euthanasia, could lead to yet more discrimination and abuse against our disabled fellows. But as I've suggested in other discussions of this issue, we have a variety of rules/laws against discrimination and abuse. It is scandalous that they are not vigorously enforced, or are enforced in a clearly discriminatory manner -- on that point I have no quarrel with activists like Stephen Drake. But our societal failure in this regard is hardly relevant to the factual question of whether choosing death can be rational and, assuming a positive answer, the ethical question of whether we should permit people to act on such choices.

 

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