Human Exceptionalism

What We Are Becoming: Paralyzed Teacher Feels Need to Justify Existence

All of the advocacy and tub thumping promoting the euphemist phrase “death with dignity,” accompanied by widepread media and the public support for the suicides of people with disabilities or serious illnesses, sends the insidious message to similarly situated people that they are “burdens” or do not have lives worth living. Such cheering for death reflects an explicitly discriminatory attitude that would not be countenanced if applied against other disadvantaged groups.

People living with these circumstances are hearing the message that they are not really wanted. Case in point: A paralyzed teacher in the United Kingdom named Sue Garner actually felt the need to defend herself as not “selfish” for wanting to continue to live. From the story:

A paralyzed Merseyside teacher has spoken of her anger that the growing public sympathy for assisted suicide means she is now seen as ‘selfish’ for wanting to carry on living. Sue Garner-Jones last night criticised the way seriously disabled people who choose to end their lives are commonly described as ‘courageous’ and ‘selfless’.

As readers of SHS know, Garner-Jones is living in a milieu in which parents of Daniel James took their son, who was despondent over recent paralysis, to Switzerland for an assisted suicide, a Kevorkian-like practice known as “suicide tourism.” Despite the fact that James was not terminally ill, the case has become a cause celebre for legalizing assisted suicide:

Mr James’s parents said that after being left in a similar tetraplegic state, he was living only a ‘second class existence’.

Attacking the ‘hysteria’ surrounding his case, she warned: “I am seriously concerned that this might have a severely detrimental effect on anyone who lives with disability, or cares for someone in this situation, especially as Mr and Mrs James are referring to his life as a tetraplegic as ‘second class’.”

Note Garner’s defensiveness and the almost desperate need she feels to justify her continued existence:

She is given 24/7 care by her mother Pat, 72. “I feel I’ve contributed quite a lot to society,” she said. “People who come to my classes–they get a lot out of it. In fact, it’s society that’s second class in many ways. Society doesn’t accommodate disabled people”. We all have our good and bad times, but it should be said that many of us lead many worthwhile lives, she said.

The press coverage of Mr James’s suicide failed to reflect the view that disabled people could live full lives, she added. “They didn’t publish one comment and I know that there were some because I wrote some–saying that there’s an alternative. It’s just frightening it could open the door to people thinking if you become disabled there’s no future.

None of us should have to justify being alive. But this is what we are becoming. We ignore the warning signs at our own peril.

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