Euthanasia: Disability Hate Crime, and the silence

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

People gather in front of the front gate of the Tsukui Yamayurien facility for the disabled in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 26. (Takeshi Iwashita)

People gather in front of the front gate of the Tsukui Yamayurien facility for the disabled in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 26. (Takeshi Iwashita)

The Australian News Weekly magazine published an excellent article by Paul Russell, the Executive Director of Hope Australia and Vice Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition-International.

Russell, in his commentary, examines the reaction to the disability hate crime that occurred in a care facility in Sagamirihara, Japan where on July 26, 19 people with disabilities were brutally killed and another 26 people with disabilities were injured.

Russell is essentially commenting on the media response to the killing in his article that he titles: “Euthanasia – Disability hate crime: then the rest is silence.” He writes

The media characterised the attacks as “senseless” and “incomprehensible”. At one level, this attack on innocent defenceless people by a lone madman is, indeed, “incomprehensible”. But for my many friends in the disability community it is, perhaps, an extreme example of the kind of prejudice that they experience all too often; a chilling and visceral reminder of the subtle and not so subtle discrimination that is never far from them and that echoes through history.

Russell quote from a letter the killer sent to the Japanese Parliament some time before his heinous actions in which he wrote:

“I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanised, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.

“I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery.”

Russell quotes several responses by disability leaders, the first from Syracuse, New York, disability activist and academic Bill Peace. Peace wrote on his blog:

“This hate crime and mass murder led to a sleepless night for me. What took place could have happened in any nation. It could have taken place in Omaha, Nebraska, Cambridge, England, Paris, France, or Syracuse, NY. As I read story after story I felt a chill go down my spine when I read the following words: ‘He was just an ordinary young fellow.’

“I have no doubt he was an ordinary young fellow. That is what makes ableism so frightening. People, typical people, think life with a disability is worse than death. I plan to go out to lunch with my son. We will likely stop at a cross walk and wait for a light to turn. A biped will likely stand near me. That biped might be thinking, ‘S_ _t, if I were paralysed I would prefer to be dead. That guy should be dead. He sucks up too much health-care dollars.’

“This is what scares me. The silence. How many silently wish we people with a disability did not exist. My concerns are shared by many who have a disability and more generally any person with an atypical body.”

In another Blog comment Peace states:

“The hate crime in Japan graphically and horrifically demonstrates that people with a disability are prone to being the victims of violence. That violence includes murder. How many more people need to die before ableism is acknowledged as a global problem.

“The violence I refer to takes many forms. Hollywood knows that films that kill disabled characters for their own merciful end of life resonate well with audiences.

“Police in the United States have killed a host of people with a disability. Parents who murder their disabled children are given light sentences for their crimes.”

Russell also quotes from Canadian blogger and disability activist Dave Hingsburger:

“The discussion of and public endorsement of the concept of mercy killing of people with disabilities had taken root in this man with alarming ferocity. No doubt he will be spoken of as someone who has mental health issues, and maybe he does. But when you read what he says, what he says isn’t far from what most people have come to believe.

“His statement to the police upon turning himself in that ‘it’s better that disabled people disappear’ isn’t a deranged rant by someone out of control, it’s a calm statement of fact that echoes the sentiment of many in society.

“People with disabilities know this sentiment, we hear it, we experience it and we have come to fear what it will do. Our lives are devalued, our needs are seen as special and therefore burdensome, our rights are declared to be gifts rather than guarantees.”

Russell is asking the question that the disability community has a right to know. Why all the media silence concerning the largest mass killing in Japan since WWII?