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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Daniel James and Fear of Disability

Mainstream media outlets in Britain continue to defend James decision to commit suicide. Euthanasia advocates are rallying around Mr. James parents, characterizing them as selfless angels who gave their son an escape from his body that was a prison. There is no doubt that Mr. James and his parents have the overwhelming support of the general public. I find this frightening and confusing.

I am scared and confused because I want to know what other people will be hailed or encouraged to kill themselves. Is it okay for all people with a spinal cord injury to commit suicide? If not, where does one draw the line? Is there a particular level of SCI that is unacceptable? What about people with MS or ALS? At what point is it acceptable for them to end their life? What about elderly people with dementia? Is their life worth living? Who gets to make these decisions? Does a disabled person get to have a say in whether they live or die? These question have insidious implications that affect all humans. James death has sent a message to disabled people and the general public--your life is not worth living. No one questioned why James felt like a "second class citizen", this social construct was accepted without thought. This makes me very worried and brings me back to one of the very first posts I made on this blog. I worry and am afraid to go to the hospital. What if a doctor I have never met thinks life with a spinal cord injury is not worth living. This doctor may have just read about the parents of a person with an identical injury that committed suicide. Perhaps this doctors assumes I consider my body a prison, my life nothing short of miserable. Given these variables, will I receive the same medical care as a person that walked in the door to the emergency room? In sincerely doubt it. And this is in part why the James case is so scary. While I do not want to judge Mr. James and his parents, I condemn the implications of their actions. I have a right to live a rich and full life as did Mr. James. I mourn Mr. Jones death and will continue to rail against the society that made him feel as though his life was not worth living.


A Jersey Girl said...

I think there are negations of the value of human life and dignity to be found everywhere. Some of them are accidental and born of ignorance. Some of them are willful and done in the spirit of 'the common good.'

Derek Handley said...

I keep getting hung up on the idea of someone thinking of me as a second-class citizen. I don't think I am a second-class citizen, my partner doesn't think of me as a second-class citizen. Being in a wheelchair is not something to be pitied. Being without the support of friends and family, being told that your life isn't worth living: that is pitiable.

People do fear disability. The comments I hear show people's fear. Daniel James is a victim of this fear - he was left believing his life was over, and that all there was left was to die.

As you said, the message this sends could be a real issue for many other people in wheelchairs in their dealings with the legal and medical professions.

william Peace said...

Jenny, I agree with your comment about human life. I think people with disabilities are an extreme case and their lives are perceived as a quasi-tragedy by many.
Derek, I too have never thought of myself as being a second class citizen even though I have been treated this way at times. As for fear of disability, academic studies have demonstrated repeatedly that most people given a choice would choose death over life with a disability. I recall reading a New England Journal of Medicine article that found 68% of people that committed suicide did so because they feared disability. Why people are so terrified of disability is hard for me to understand. I think I have led a very rewarding life the last thirty years, all of it with a paralyzed body.

Suzanne Gorrell said...

I agree with Derek, James just feared his disability so much, that he REALLLLY never just let himself be at rest with being disabled..Therefore he never moved on. James feared his disability.
Suzanne- Good post
Read my post

william Peace said...

Why do people fear using a wheelchair? It cannot be solely related to a physical deficit. I figured this out 30 years ago even though I used an inferior E&J wheelchair. I quickly realized there were a host of things I could do that did not require the ability to walk. The fear so many feel has little to do with the utility of wheelchair use but the social stigma attached to it. Why Mr. James could not get past this is a social failure on the part of his parents. If they did not believe he could lead a rich and full life than why would anyone else think otherwise?