By Amy Hasbrouck, Director: Toujours Vivant – Not Dead Yet
Editor’s note. This first appeared at alexschadenberg.blogspot.com.
HBO’s Vice documentary series presented “Right to Die,” a 27-minute “debate” on assisted suicide.
To call this a debate is ridiculous. Less than two minutes was dedicated to opposition to assisted suicide. The segment implied that the opposition in the U.S. was led by the Catholic church, and didn’t even mention or interview disability rights organizations that oppose assisted suicide. The correspondent did admit that there is “some evidence” of a slippery slope in the Belgium and the Netherlands.
The documentary, narrated by correspondent Vikram Gandhi, is centred around the euthanasia death of Antoinette Westerink, a Dutch woman with a “personality disorder” whose euthanasia is shown during the segment.
Ms. Westerink sees herself as preparing to emerge from a chrysalis, and having no regrets about her impending death. However, her adult son and daughter are upset that the psychiatrist who approved her euthanasia did so after only three meetings, and did not consult her family before making the determination.
During the segment, Gandhi speaks to Christina Symonds, a person who is as yet minimally affected with ALS. As he introduces her, images of “Late stage ALS ‘patients’” are shown; a person in a hoyer lift, and others in hospital beds using external breathing assistance.
Symonds shows her fear of becoming disabled when she says:
“The only thing you’ll be able to move in the end are your eyeballs. I don’t want to go through that horror. And I certainly don’t want to put my kids through that.”
Her husband Teddy Symonds adds:
“She doesn’t want to sit back and be taken care of and be wiped and be fed. She wants to go ‘I’m done.’ It’s not getting any better. Whatever was gonna work is not working anymore and that’s where I draw the line.’ And if you have that ability, it’s power.”
Ned Delojsi from the California Catholic Conference is quoted twice, for a total of just over a minute (46 seconds then 20 seconds). Though he devotes most of his time speaking about the danger for vulnerable persons, his remarks about faith are used first, to discredit him to the secular audience. Later, [Professor] Theo Boer raises questions about the dramatic increase in euthanasia in the Netherlands during his 40-second on-screen appearance.
Nelojsi’s interview is followed by a quote from Christy O’Donnell, a person with cancer who uses a wheelchair and states “When they are sitting in this chair with a stage IV diagnosis and a child that they’re leaving or a husband that they love, then they can make their own decision.”
Unfortunately the producers did not speak to those disabled people who are “sitting in this chair” yet still oppose assisted suicide.
Howard Glick, another person with a degenerative disease (frontal temporal degeneration) also expresses his fears over becoming disabled.
“What do I want to do, waste away in a wheelchair? Not even recognizing my children? Never mind the cost involved.”
As in many similar documentaries, the producers had their minds made up on the issue before they began to explore it, and so neglected to portray the arguments against assisted suicide and euthanasia fairly. They played upon public fears of becoming disabled, using the term “dignity” as the opposite of disability, and implying that the only way to retain control in one’s life was to have assisted death.
In addition, the producers made it clear that usual methods of suicide were unacceptable substitutes for the help of a medical practitioner. They did not describe what happens when complications arise during assisted suicides and euthanasia. Instead, they promoted the suicide kits marketed by Derek Humphry.
The segment also downplayed the objections of doctors who oppose the practice as a violation of the principles of palliative care, lumping them in with the religious community.
This is an excellent piece of propaganda, but not journalism.