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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Daniel James Parents: No Criminal Charges

Daniel James is back in the news. British newspapers report that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will not press criminal charges against James' parents who escorted their son to Dignitas, a Swiss Suicide Clinic. According to Keir Starmer, Director of Public Relations at the CPS, prosecution of James' parents was not in the public interest. He stated "This is a tragic case, involving as it does, the death of a young man in difficult and unique circumstances. The CPS had ample evidence to charge James' parents under the Suicide Act which states that it is a criminal offense to aid, counsel or procure the suicide of another. The CPS did not minimize the "seriousness of this offense" but maintained Daniel James was not influenced by his parents to take his own life.

The CPS decision not to charge James' parents is extremely important. It provides precedent for the position of the CPS on cases of assisted suicide. It does not take much thought to realize that future cases will not result in prosecution. Thus the CPS decision paves the way for others such as Debbie Purdy to die without fear family members will be prosecuted for assisting her death. While proponents of assisted suicide slap themselves on the back and rejoice, I am deeply disturbed. Let me be very clear on what I think the CPS decision means: it is now acceptable to help people with disabilities end their life. Here I use disability in the widest sense of the term. In short, the hunting season for killing people with disabilities is now open. While my words are harsh, so too is the social reality people with disabilities encounter. Mr. James and his parents knew this and stated that their son was not willing to "live a second class existence". In fact they characterize the last months of their son's life as "unnecessary" and that it would have been "very nice for him to have been able to stay at home with his family."

I feel absolutely no pity for James' parents. I have not one ounce of sympathy or understanding for them. I am not swayed by a single statement they have made about assisted suicide or their son. They were and remain shockingly selfish, narcisstic in the extreme. They were so consumed by their son's paralysis that they never looked beyond what they felt was a family tragedy. The decision to assist their son's suicide has reinforced the commonly held belief that death is preferable to disability. News papers in Britain abound with stories about terminally ill and disabled people that want to or have been assisted in ending their lives. Here is a random sampling of statements I have read:

"Assisted death is a way to avoid becoming dependent on care givers".

"It was my duty to help him die".

"John's death was moving and amazing: it was a privilege".

"His deformed and dysfunctional body is now at peace".

"I wanted my healthy sister not the person who is fed by a tube and wears an adult diaper".

"My father borne his terrible illness long enough, it was time for him to die".

"No one can be happy after they are paralyzed, assisted suicide is the humane thing to do".

I could provide dozens if not hundreds of statement like those above. I find such sentiments deplorable. No wonder disabled people remain among the most oppressed minority group in the world. What worries me the most is where does this push for assisted suicide end? In Britain, Sky Real Lives will broadcast a documentary about Craig Ewert who has a motor neurone disease. The "highlight" of the show will be airing the moment of his death at the same Swiss clinic where Daniel James died. According to Stephen Armstrong, "showing the moment of death was worthwhile and even valuable piece of television" (Guardian "Memento ,mori" 12/10/08). This is downright creepy and I wish I knew how we as a society got here. Is this simply reality TV run amuck? I think not. We are living in an age of great social and economic upheaval and at a time the masses are in favor of assisted suicided. The mainstream media is reinforcing this widely held belief. Those at greatest risk are those least likely to be able to protect themselves--the chronically sick, elderly and disabled. These people's lives are not valued, my life is not valued. Worse yet, care for the sick, elderly, and disabled is expensive and resources wasted on their care. Society out of the goodness its heart does not want these poor bastards to suffer. Hence death is preferable and cheaper. This logic is as scary as it is deadly. The gauntlet has been thrown down and it is up to all humans to demonstrate our humanity by serving those that are risk for being killed.


Becs said...

Disability snuff TV.

Oh - recently rewatched "Gattaca" and realized it, too, is disability snuff film.

Legalized murder - hopefully not coming to a state near me.

william Peace said...

Becs, Gattaca is a great film or least great given the fact it was produced in Hollywood.
I just don't get the push for assisted death. Killing a human is pretty simple. I see no reason for it to be legalized. The precedent it sets is just too dangerous.

FridaWrites said...

You know, William, this seriously reminds me of the Nazi film about the woman with MS who decides, along with her dr. husband, that she must die. This feels like the tip of the iceberg.

william Peace said...

Frida, Yes, the push for assisted death is akin to an ice berg. There is little or no opposition in the mainstream media and assisted suicide advocacy groups have deep pockets. The money spent in Washington from out of state assisted suicide lobbies was staggering. At some level this does remind me of what took place in Germany and how the Nazi term "useless eaters" became acceptable. When you add in the current world wide economic crisis my concerns only multiply.

M. said...

Suicide is a basic human right, whether you're disabled or not (I am). I find it disgusting and fucked up that disabled people are generally opposed to assisted suicide. Opposing basic human rights is not going to help realization of human rights or reduce ableism.

His parents did the right thing, and any sensible and intelligent person can surely see this.