March 10, 2017

Dignicide

A Theatrical Rebuttal to the Farce of ‘Dignicide’ - Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal

The title and subject are dark, but British theatergoers don’t seem to care. “Assisted Suicide” has received rave reviews since it was first shown last year, and when I saw it in January a packed house gave it a standing ovation. That’s all the more remarkable given the musical’s anti-euthanasia message, at a time when voters on both sides of the Atlantic are making their peace with the practice.

The musical’s creator, Liz Carr, ... suffers from a genetic disorder that prevents her from extending her muscles, among other impairments. Such people watch the assisted-suicide movement’s recent strides and wonder what it all means for their future in societies where the government is the main, often the sole, health-care provider.

Growing up with a severe disability, Ms. Carr recalls, “life was bleak.” She excelled at academics, but no amount of therapy seemed to improve her physical ability. She was never consciously suicidal, “but I didn’t see a future or an escape. I couldn’t see a point. So in that sense I’ve been to very dark places.” She pressed on, however, and now enjoys national prominence as an actress and disability activist.

Ms. Carr, who was born in 1972, considers herself lucky that euthanasia wasn’t on the cultural radar when she was young. “Assisted suicide has become part of the narrative of death, of illness, of disability,” she says. That was the work of euthanasia proponents, who knew that “it takes 15 to 20 years to get social support and to get the culture to change—then you pass the law.”

“We’ve lost the word ‘dignity’ to the concept of ‘death with dignity,’ ” says Ms. Carr. The truth, she insists, is that “your state of health, mental or physical, has no bearing on your dignity.” If voters and lawmakers take the view that dignity derives from good health and ability, then all sorts of weak and vulnerable people can be discarded.

The death-with-dignity case is often based not on the lived experience of people with disabilities, but on the subjective judgments of others.  Her musical thus provides a necessary cultural corrective: I’m disabled, but who are you to say I lack dignity?  All this talk of “death with dignity” also provides a convenient alibi for the failure to care for people who are disabled, ill or even lonely.

“Legalizing euthanasia doesn’t empower you. It empowers doctors.” In the context of the modern welfare state, that means empowering agents of the government.  Legalization hides a dramatic action—the taking of life—behind the veil of the patient-doctor relationship, with all the power imbalances inherent in it.

People can always commit suicide, she says, but to give the state the power to facilitate it is to invite pressure on people like her: “How do we decide who qualifies? Why do we say that being disabled or ill—why is that OK justification, but being in anguish because you’ve been dumped by your boyfriend, or lost a child, isn’t?”
Posted by Jill Fallon at March 10, 2017 7:00 AM | Permalink