Sunday, 17 November 2013

EPC Europe Director sets context for euthanasia debate: are disabled people right in being afraid?

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE, director of the newly formed Euthanasia Prevention Coalition - Europe spoke in Brussels both at the launch of the new organisation and in setting the context for the great debate later that same evening. What follows is Kevin's chilling assessment of euthanasia and disabled people:


I am very aware that we are in the Goethe Institute – and I am always happy acknowledge my own heritage so whether the idea came from a young Goethe, or as some people suggest, the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, it has been said often enough that for evil people to accomplish their purpose, it is only necessary that good people should do nothing.

Goethe can surely be interpreted as saying  - standing by and doing nothing is the worst of all moral positions to adopt.

So let me first ask: what is truly going on in the name of logic and of compassion? Why are we even debating this subject?

Dr Fitzpatrick (centre front) with David Fieldsend,
Alex Schadenberg and Finnish MEP Sari Essayah
at the EPC Europe launch at the
EU Parliament, Brussels
I want to try to show you something about my life: not as an individual, although I am happy to speak about my biography if you wish, my life growing up in Belfast, my wife, my family, my children, my work, even my favourite football team if you are willing to listen!

But that is not what I mean – I mean to speak to you about my disabled life – and not just about mine but about the lives of tens of thousands, even millions of disabled people disabled like me, across Europe today.
I ask you to consider the very real fears we have when we watch disabled babies being euthanased in Holland with the same disabilities we have.

Whether we might be an activist, author and Baroness of the British House of Lords (Jane) or an 11 times paralympic gold medallist, and Baroness of the British House of Lords  (Tanni), I ask you to share our horror that people are euthanased in Belgium because they are becoming blind  – again we have a blind paralympian gold medallist and a Baron in the British House of Lords (Chris).

I ask you to share our horror when  we see people who are suffering deep trauma, rejection at birth because of their sex and who are failed in later life with botched sex-change operations...or women abused by the very doctors who are supposed to be helping them, who then seek refuge in death by euthanasia – a refuge which is no refuge at all, but an act of such desperation.

Why are these disabled people in Belgium people pushed to such despair? Why do we pretend they have a choice? When clearly they see they only have death left to them? And we pretend we are respecting their wishes?

There is so much rhetoric about the 'clear and settled wish' to die ....so... if someone came to you said:
"I feel something has broken in me on which my whole life has always rested, I have nothing left to hold on to and morally my life has stopped. There is an invincible force compelling me to get rid of my existence......it is an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life."
Perhaps you might say this is certainly an intelligent man - he knows what he wants - perhaps you will say we should help him with his deep psychological suffering and ease him out of it.

If you would contemplate yes in either case you would  you would deny the world some of its finest literature for I have paraphrased the words of Tolstoy in his work entitled My Confession.

If a man came to you tomorrow in a restaurant and said he wanted to die and wanted your help – would you just say ok?

If he said he was a husband, a father, a successful entrepreneur and something of a sportsman – and when you asked him why he wanted to die, he said he was so frightened of old age he could not bear the thought - would you help him to die?

But now; If he was a wheelchair user like me – would that change the situation?
If I told you  I’ve been like this for forty years now – would you be more sympathetic?
Would you agree I have suffered enough already? That the suffering I face in the future is understandably too much to bear? Would you help me to die?

So Why do we think it is different – we must react differently in the presence of disability? It is a form of reverse discrimination.

Yes, some disabled do say they want euthanasia or physician assisted suicide  – but first let me assure you they are a tiny minority and not one of them that I know of represents any Disabled People’s Organisations.

A lot of people around the world took notice of the great scientist Stephen Hawking when he said if it is okay for animals it should be okay for human beings – he represents no disabled person other than himself and being a great scientist clearly does not prevent you from saying stupid things, does not prevent you from indulging your lazy moral thinking  - which this is.

DPOs have all said either they have huge reservations about legalising euthanasia or they have come out strongly against – because of just what is already happening to disabled people across the world where euthanasia is legalised in any form including physician assisted suicide.

Disabled people are like the rest of the population which is not disabled – we are at least as likely to fall into despair, We are just as likely to be fooled into allowing ourselves to be exploited - to enjoy our moments of fame in front of the world's media - to seek the attention that come from notoriety. We have all the same human emotions and failings, weaknesses, vanities.

perhaps more so as a wider society rejects us as disabled people takes away any support that enables us to live, treats us as ‘wasters’, ‘scroungers’; ‘a burden on the state’

Especially when we live in a society where, we are denied work,  where we are thrown out of restaurants, where there is no social care, where it is all to easy for people to spit at us in the street or kidnap and horrifically abuse us before murdering us for fun – just because we are disabled.

I know none of you are that kind of person; but do you subtly give them permission by not standing up for us when we need your help if we become vulnerable?

What do you do when you hear such stories, read them in your morning newspaper? Do you act? or do you go back to your morning coffee?

If you watch the expansion of euthanasia to people with dementia, to children, even to neo-nates, to people who are at no risk of dying, to people who are thought to be a strain on scarce health and social-care, to disabled people who are none of these just simply because they are disabled?

And if you stand by and do nothing? Do you become the ‘society’ which gives licence to these others and their hate-crimes?

If you are not indifferent to these questions, perhaps you can see through a wealthy, celebrity-led lobby for euthanasia when it argues that  euthanasia is a right – it is a matter of personal autonomy – as if personal choice can trump the laws which protect us all from attack, or harm
as if those disabled people who die by euthanasia are exercising any real choice  – dying is the end of choice – and choice in seeking euthanasia is an illusion.

I am reminded of something else Goethe said:
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
Laws which protect us,  provide essential limits. The law protecting me and millions of disabled people in Europe, even more millions of older people, children - I begin to wonder who it doesn't protect - is essential because it limits the devastating effects of lazy moral thinking, false reasoning, and sheer malice in taking the lives of other human beings.

I said a few disabled people speak in favour of, and some have taken the option to die: Freedom to die is a very strange sort of freedom: but many disabled people have been induced to believe they are exercising choice when they are also convinced by the same people that there is nothing left for them – this is not an exercise of personal autonomy - it is a solution of despair, a very final solution, for no one who is dies by euthanasia ever gets the chance to change their minds.

But so many people who despair today, change their minds tomorrow. So even for individuals, this so-called exercise of personal autonomy is a false freedom – and can more easily enslave those who are vulnerable because of attitudes to them as disabled people – attitudes which they absorb over a lifetime of being diminished and humiliated because you are disabled, or hated even by your own mother for being a girl.

"The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become," said Wolfgang von Goethe.

It is no surprise that some disabled people absorb the idea that their lives are not worth living when faced with poverty, unemployment etc. Many non-disabled people fear becoming like us, one of us. They insist we are suffering in ways they describe as unbearable, they say no human being should have to live like us – they don’t ask, they don’t listen to, they don’t value disabled people. And things are changing dramatically for the worse - when disabled lives are taken and when this becomes routine.

I want to finish on this idea for you have better speakers than me to listen to now, in the debate that is about to take place.

The greatest danger in Holland and here in Belgium is that euthanasia has become commonplace.

The question: is there something to be worried about here, in this case, this person in front of me? – this question gets lost where legal permission to kill exists.

This is Hannah Arednt’s ‘banality of evil’. What has also been lost is the deepest sense that this is a human being regardless of their disabilities, regardless of their illness, regardless of how close to death the are...doctors are just as open to following orders, following protocols, following trends as any other other group of human beings. They are open to cynicism too and they are seduced sometimes, by playing God.

And yet, the majority of doctors, like the majority of disabled people, oppose euthanasia.

Going back to the introduction of the law in Holland, so many years ago already: One Dutch doctor said, we agonised over the first case for days and days, the second was easier, by the time we got to the third case it was a piece of cake!

That word 'agonising' - that's a moral word - because this is a moral judgement to end a life is not a medical judgement but how did doctors become the moral guardians of our deaths - what special attributes do they have to become the arbiters of death? NONE.

In our time, it has become more and more acceptable to see others most of all, us disabled people as having lives not worth living to hand that responsibility, for making end-of-life judgements to doctors, to legalise, to make it normal not even to pause and ask whether it is right that one person should so judge another's life as not worth living and then do something about that to make it routine for people to die  and to facilitate, to allow it; to stand by.

This is a violation of the most fundamental human right, the right to life, for no-one can argue that someone who is demented is giving free, full, consent, no-one can argue that a neo-nate is consenting to a lethal injection because child's parents abhor the tiny human being with all the guilt and terror of the unknown.

Euthanasia is a human rights issue for disabled people  – a moral issue of the deepest kind.

Legalising euthanasia feeds the human disposition to accept that there are no questions left to ask – it becomes routine – there is the banality of evil Arendt brought to our attention.

Legalising is giving licence to those, some doctors among them who do believe euthanasia is the answer not only to suffering, but to the economic crisis, and to many other troubles of the world in our time.

We must ask questions: we must not accept doctors as the moral arbiters of lives and we must resist and reject the idea that some human beings have lives not worth living.

We must ask why such a wealthy and aggressive lobby has not first fought so viciously for the right of every citizen to the best palliative care.

We must ask what drives the idea that human suffering can and must be eliminated or whether those who do suffer are a burden on the sensibilities of the rest, who want them gone – not to share the world with them.

I will say in closing: ending human suffering is not like getting off a bus.


No matter what anyone else says.

Note: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, politician, poet and philosopher of the late 18th and early 19th century. One of his books called The Sorrows of Young Werther is, interestingly, where we get the term, Werther Effect, to describe a suicide contagion or copycat syndrome.

See also: 

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but make the chilling comparison between the Nazi euthanasia program (the Nazis killed at least 240,000 disabled people) and the euthanasia of the Belgian deaf twins and more. The disabled deserves our support, care and admiration. Not devaluation or judgement from certain doctors.

    Clara

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