Thaddeus Baklinski

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Human rights organization criticizes 'media orgy' over disabled woman’s suicide

Thaddeus Baklinski

WINNIPEG, April 26, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Canadian human rights organization for people with disabilities is criticizing what it calls the "media orgy" surrounding the assisted suicide death of a terminally ill Canadian woman who traveled to the Dignitas suicide “clinic” in Zurich to kill herself.

Susan Griffiths, 72, who had multiple system atrophy (MSA), a degenerative disease that would have left her significantly disabled, left for Europe earlier this month amidst heavy media coverage.

Griffiths left behind a letter that was delivered to all members of Parliament, where she urged them to legalize assisted suicide.

In the letter she described her illness as "a life sentence" of being bedridden under heavy sedation, "with mechanical contrivances and shifts of impersonal caregivers tending to my every bodily function."

In keeping with her effort to influence legislators' opinion on assisted suicide and euthanasia, Griffiths invited the media to attend her death in Switzerland.

The CBC's Donna Carreiro said, "Her last words to the media reinforced her reasons for allowing us there. She thanked Canadians for listening to her story. She urged Canadians, one last time, to lobby politicians to change the law. She ordered her loved ones to keep up the fight."

However, Amy Hasbrouck, of Toujours Vivant–Not Dead Yet Canada, a project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), said that an important question is not being asked: "Why is no one trying to stop Susan Griffiths from committing suicide?"

"Does the media orgy around Griffiths' story mean that we believe the everyday realities of living with a disability are reason enough to get help to die?” she asked. “And should the media rise to the bait every time a person with a disability flaunts their suicide in the public square?"

In an op-ed titled "Suicide Celebration Instead Of Suicide Prevention," Hasbrouck said, "Sue Griffiths of Winnipeg is the latest person to publicize her desire for assisted suicide, and to have her efforts celebrated by the press."

She reiterated that, "Ms. Griffiths has Multiple Systems Atrophy, a degenerative neurological condition which causes pain in about half the people who have it."

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Hasbrouck noted, however, that "Photos show her standing, walking and using her hands; she is certainly not a person who is “physically unable to commit suicide without help.” She is described as a person who is in charge of her life, but she apparently wants to have someone else take charge of her death."

"The reasons she gives for wanting to kill herself are related to disability, needing help with personal care and other daily activities, having to use adaptive equipment, losing independence. The subtext is that, as a person with a disability, she believes she will be less worthy, less dignified, less than fully human," Hasbrouck explained.

The position of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities is that "in point of fact, disability is not a fate worse than death."

"When people become disabled, they must grieve the loss of abilities they had, just as a parent might grieve the loss of a child, or one grieves the loss of one's home after a natural disaster," the organization asserts. "But no one would suggest it's a good idea for the bereaved parent or survivor of a natural disaster to commit suicide, much less that s/he be helped to die."

"We have a policy to prevent suicides, and rightfully so," said Hasbrouck.

Alex Schadenberg of the the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, who has been on the forefront of the fight to stop the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada and around the world, said that countries need to protect citizens by maintaining their laws that protect people from euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"Legalizing euthanasia and/or assisted suicide (assisted death) gives physicians the power, in law, to directly and intentionally cause the death or to prescribe the suicide of their patients," said Schadenberg.

In a letter to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, which has been reporting extensively on Griffiths' assisted suicide, Dave Martin, described as a senior adviser on disability issues for the province of Manitoba, concurred with Schadenberg.

"I have extensive physical limitations, so I can relate to her situation," Martin wrote regarding Griffiths’ decision to advocate for assisted suicide by publicizing her death.

"I do not, however, agree with her advocacy for a change in Canada's laws prohibiting assisted suicide. Her personal tragedy does not mean that laws designed to protect people from abuse should be thrown out the window,” Martin said. “Regardless of what assisted-suicide advocates claim, allowing it in Canada would inevitably result in some people choosing it after being subtly coaxed by a sometimes uncaring society that often does not provide adequate support. I also know some will rush toward assisted suicide, because of fear and depression about various grim medical diagnoses.”

"Why would we as Canadians want to risk the lives of people in fragile emotional states by providing them with help to kill themselves? I favour erring on the side of life," Martin concluded.

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