Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's Suicide Prevention Week - Except for Old, Ill and Physically Disabled People

Their lives are too miserable and should be extinguished:

The reason I don't expect any complaints from suicide prevention organizations is that - to me, at least - they've made it pretty clear that they've written off the lives of old, ill and physically disabled people as "acceptable losses." I specify "physically disabled," because having a label of psychiatric disability too often leads to indefinite terms of forced institutional treatment - with or without a wish to commit suicide. But it's one thing to have concerns about excesses in the name of "prevention" and another thing to embrace the facilitation of suicides for select groups in the population.

Specifically, there is an appalling lack of voiced concern over the promotion of suicide in the populations of old, ill and physically disabled people. For the first few months of this year, there was nationwide coverage of the Final Exit Network - an organization that supports and facilitates the suicides of people with nonterminal disabilities and chronic conditions. Over the course of many months, stories appearing in countless outlets included the URL for the Final Exit Network in their stories. The website provided information on obtaining suicide instructional materials and how to get involved with the Final Exit Network. Most of the articles treated the Network and its "work" sympathetically.

In case you're wondering, suicide prevention groups do get involved in media issues. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide and Mental Health Association International both have sections devoted to media issues. Except for a brief mention of suicide increases related to publication of Derek Humphry's book, Final Exit, there is no acknowledgment that the suicides of old, ill and physically disabled people are being facilitated and then covered in a way that legitimizes them in the press.

Suicide is a choice. People for the prevention of suicide try to talk some out of their choices, but not others.

And this isn't just about the legal issue of assisted suicide. It's about the culture that makes death the means to cut the Gordion knot of our problems.