Human Exceptionalism

Media Myopia on Assisted Suicide–It’s a Reflex

Why do media so often describe non-dying people who want assisted suicide as terminally ill? Is it on purpose? Mostly, I don’t think so. I think they have accepted a false premise; that assisted suicide is about terminal illness. So when someone who is not dying wants assisted suicide, it’s like a reflex, and very soon the suicidal person is described as terminally ill even though they aren’t actually dying.

The latest is in the Debby Purdy case, which I have written about here previously. Purdy has MS, which is generally not a terminal illness. She has said she wants assisted suicide when her disability increases to the point that she can’t take it anymore, not if she is ever diagnosed as dying. And yet, guess how she is described? From the story, byline Nick Allen, in the Telegraph:

A terminally ill woman who wants her husband to help her die lost her landmark legal bid to clarify the law on assisted suicide but welcomed a High Court ruling that suggested Parliament should review the issue.

Why can’t media be accurate? It makes me want to pull my hair out.

The same phenomenon squared was and is seen with Jack Kevorkian. How often is he described in the press as the retired doctor who helped terminally ill people kill themselves? Yet, in reality, most of his assisted suicides were not dying when they went to Michigan to die in his rusty van or other such places, while five weren’t even sick according to their autopsies. Yet getting media to change their wording about Kevorkian–which I have often worked at–is almost always very tough going.

Like I said, sometimes it’s bias, but most of the time I think it is an unthinking reflex. But when you think about it, which is worse?