How Alzheimer’s unduly influences the euthanasia debate

By Michael Cook

Negative attitudes towards Alzheimer’s disease are an undue influence on the euthanasia debate, claims an Australian bioethicist.

Deakin University Professor Megan-Jane Johnstone has examined the ‘Alzheimerisation’ of the euthanasia debate in her book, “Alzheimer’s disease, media representations and the politics of euthanasia: constructing risk and selling death in an aging society.”

“Alzheimer’s has been portrayed as the ‘disease of the century’ that is poised to have a near catastrophic impact on the world’s healthcare system as the population ages,” Professor Johnstone said.

“This representation of the disease—along with other often used terms such as ‘living dead’, a ‘funeral that never ends’ and a ‘fate worse than death’—places Alzheimer’s as a soft target in the euthanasia debate because it plays to people’s fears of developing the disease and what it symbolises. It positions Alzheimer’s as something that requires a remedy; that remedy increasingly being pre-emptive and beneficent euthanasia.”

Professor Johnstone acknowledges that euthanasia is a polarizing and emotive issue. However she warns that the public could be unduly swayed by the way the media, and pro-euthanasia groups, frame the issue as “simply a matter of choice” through the use of highly personalized, individual experiences.

“Euthanasia is far from a simple matter of choice, as choice itself is no simple matter; it is an extremely complex phenomenon. And Alzheimer’s disease cannot be adequately portrayed through highly publicised individual cases.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at BioEdge and is reposted with permission.