For some, the death of Jack Kevorkian is an end of a legacy, marred by legal troubles that never should have been. For others, it is a time to rejoice at the end of the life of a man who held little regard for life, death and disability. For me, I find myself straddled between a fence that separates these two, distinct, yet equally passionate groups.
Jack Kevorkian was no saint. I find many faults in what he did. However, I am a proponent of heavily regulated Euthanasia. I believe we, as a human species, need to be more compassionate to those who are dying. We are to our pets. When they are suffering a slow and painful death, we allow them an easier way out. When we know their death is inevitable, we do not wish to watch them endure such suffering, so we do the humane thing and let them die peacefully.
However, by the same token, who determines who is worthy of life? We know what dying is. When someone has terminal cancer, there comes a point where we can identify the impending death. It will come, and there is no stopping it. Patients are made as comfortable as possible, but often the death is slow, drawn out, and painful. If this were our dog or cat, they would be gone in an instant, by putting them to sleep, yet we, as human beings, seem to think it is okay for our loved ones to endure this pain, for us. For one more day, even if they have long vacated their body, or at least the vibrant person we once knew and loved has.
Terminal illness is different than disability. Having a disability is nothing to be ashamed of, yet many are. Having a disability is not a valid reason to want to partake in physician assisted suicide. Many people with disabilities live vibrant, full lives in spite of their disability and yes, even in spite of any pain they may endure as a result of it.
Yet, our society sees those of us with disabilities as broken, half-living, half-human, sub-human, even worthless beings. We aren’t worthy of life because we aren’t really living. I beg to differ. I feel my life is full and rich, in spite of my disability. I feel I have been given far more opportunities thanks to having a disability than many other, able-bodied people I know have been given. Still, some people would think me wanting to die is okay. Some would even encourage and support this decision.
I am reminded of the film, The Sea Inside (2004), starring Javier Bardem. Bardem plays the role of a real life person, Ramón Sampedro. Sampedro was paralyzed in a diving accident. The active Spaniard felt his life ended when he became a quadriplegic. He spent the next 29 years trying to get the government in Spain to legally allow him to commit suicide with assistance. This is a guy who did not try to get out of bed, unless it involved going to the courthouse so he could appeal for his own death.
Instead of trying to live, Sampedro sought death. His condition was not terminal, yet he believed because of his disability, death was his only option. The day he became paralyzed he chose to stop living. Eventually, he defied the courts and convinced a woman to kill him, in the name of love. Yet, Christopher Reeve, whose injury was worse than Sampedro’s (who was not on a ventilator like Reeve) found a way to live for ten years from a wheelchair, in spite of his accident. He also continued acting and directing, putting his influence to good use by trying to help others and educate the world on disability.
Sampedro would not even go into a wheelchair. He spent every day, in bed. He had his nephew and father make inventions to help him do things from bed. Imagine all the amazing things he could have created to help himself live in spite of his disability, if he were up and about. He came up with quite a few clever inventions. He had quality of life, and yet he chose to focus that quality on pursuing death. Sampedro is no role model for disability. Rather, his actions have helped to continue the oppression we experience at the hands of a society who believes we are worthy of death.
There is a difference between disability and terminal illness. One is a condition that may not even have serious health effects other than the inability to walk and anything that accompanies that. Another is an illness that inevitably leads to death. Yes, some disabilities can be terminal, but most aren’t. Still society, as a whole, views the person with a disability as worthy of death as the terminally ill patient is. We are deemed as living broken, insufferable lives.
Honestly, my life is not insufferable. I enjoy life. I feel I have a lot going for me. I just happen to be in a wheelchair. Jack Kevorkian helped kill people who wanted to die. Some of them were terminal. Some weren’t. He did not do enough checking, which is why he is at fault for what he did. He helped people with disabilities like Ramón Sampedro, who were not terminal, because he believed them when they said they were suffering. For this, Kevorkian got what he deserved. It was his fault he did not check his victims out more thoroughly (and many were victims because rather than help them out by encouraging them to live, he helped them die).
If an average person says they want to commit suicide, we get them help. If a person with a disability says the same thing, we often agree, because their life is just that bad. We should be getting them help, too, because any life is worth living if given the right assistance and accommodations to thrive. Today, we have so many more accommodations, making life much easier for those of us with disabilities to truly live. Still society sees us as not truly being “free” until death, and yet many of us feel freedom every day, as we get in our wheelchairs, go to our jobs, go to school and make our own little impact on the world.
One of the most heartbreaking movies I have ever watched is, It’s My Party. So many famous people are in this film. It is about a gay man who has AIDS. As a result, he develops an illness that is slowly going to ravage his body until it kills him. He has watched other friends suffer with this terminal disease, and it is not pretty. Many develop forms of dementia and eventually do not know themselves or others around them. Not wanting to go through this, because the end result is death, as it is terminal, he decides to throw one last party to say goodbye and then he will kill himself, while he still has the strength and state of mind to do so.
This is the kind of illness I am talking about. This man was going to die regardless, so he could either die with dignity or suffer a slow, painful death. This is not about disability, it is about humanity and being humane. He was not going to survive this if he kept living, because the illness was 100% fatal. If someone is suffering like this, they deserve to die humanely. That is their right.
In the quest for equality for the disability community, Euthanasia is one of those subjects that can be quite polarizing. I understand where my brothers and sisters in advocacy are coming from, as they do not wish to see more deaths in the name of disability. I am with them. I agree wholeheartedly. Still, there are moments in our lives when death is truly upon us. In those moments, we deserve the right to die as we wish.
[tags]physician assisted suicide, Euthanasia, Jack Kevorkian, equality, disability community, humanity, terminal illness, murder[/tags]