Introduction

Webcast archive: A media analysis post-Carter

This week, we look at media coverage after the Carter ruling.

Webcast archive: A media analysis post-Carter

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • A media analysis post-Carter
  • ADAPT in DC
  • Peter Singer’s latest ableist comment

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

ANALYSIS OF REPORTING ON THE SUPREME COURT DECISION IN THE CARTER CASE

  • A public relations firm, Earnscliffe, did an analysis of articles and editorial for the council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living
  • Earnscliffe examined 281 articles, columns, editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor in English-language newspapers throughout Canada during the month of February; before and after the Carter decision was rendered.
  • Personal stories and emotional content were prominent in the material.
  • On the other hand, political discussion and analysis of the legal and policy questions were much less common.
  • A few unsurprising observations:
    • The topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia is important to everyone.
    • The vast majority of columns and editorials supported the legalization of assisted suicide.
    • The writers believed that the Supreme Court delivered a decision that was fair and well-considered.
    • The authors’ opinions followed the polls and “public opinion.”
  • The reasons cited for supporting AS/E
    • Put an end to suffering
    • Allowing people to die with dignity
    • Give people a peaceful death.
    • Respecting individual choice and autonomy (the majority believed the court correctly interpreted the charter of rights on this point).
  • There was a consensus of support for safeguards
    • Especially against abuse.
    • For people who are competent and making a free choice.
    • But there was disagreement as to the structure of the safeguards:
      • The majority don’t believe in a slippery slope
      • Should we limit eligibility to only certain groups (such as people with a terminal illness) or exclude people (like those with psychological suffering)?
      • What process will we use to determine the person’s competence and whether she is freely choosing assisted suicide?
    • Everyone agrees we need more and better palliative care.
    • The commentators believe that Parliament must make a law.
      • They say there is no patience for invoking the notwithstanding clause
      • On the other hand, they recognize that the process of writing such a law will be difficult and complex.
      • They believe Parliament will be able to develop criteria for access to AS/E and prevent abuses.
    • People with disabilities were among those who supported the Supreme Court decision, but the Earnscliffe report doesn’t offer any quotes:
      • Since we lack the data on which this assertion is made, it’s hard to measure the degree of support among people with disabilities.
      • It could be that the appearance of support comes from repetitions of comments from Steven Fletcher and the ad hoc disability group that formed to support the plaintiffs in the Carter
    • The majority believe that doctors will be involved in medical aid in dying, but they don’t want doctors to be forced to kill people
    • Most people believe that AS/E will only be available for people “at the end of life” without defining the term, despite the fact that the Supreme Court decision allows it for people with disabilities.
    • Among those who oppose AS/E, the reasons were:
      • Religious reasons (sanctity of life, similarity to abortion)
      • The slippery slope – Examples from the BeNeLux countries.
      • The danger of abuse – Elders and people with disabilities experience a higher rate of abuse. With assisted suicide, abuse can include coercion to kill oneself.
      • Suicide assistance instead of suicide prevention.
      • The eligibility criteria are too broad.
      • AS/E puts pressure on doctors: killing is not care.
    • The report says that religious themes were the most prevalent. We’re not sure if Earnscliffe excluded the three Catholic newspapers from their sample in arriving at this conclusion.
    • There were few op-eds or quotes from people with disabilities:
      • When disability rights arguments were raised, it was usually academics who were quoted.
      • There was no discussion of the date within the disability community.
    • Despite significant efforts, “the narrative and the voice of Canada’s disability community has not been heard sufficiently and is not adequately reflected in current editorial opinion.”
      • “The disabled” are mixed subsumed within “the vulnerable.”
      • This amalgam is seen as an indistinct group without experience, value, knowledge or rights.
      • There is not recognition that the interests of people with disabilities might be different from those of people with a terminal illness.
      • The language of the Carter decision exacerbated this problem.

NEWS BRIEFS

  • ADAPT in Washington – A group of disability rights activists demanding home-based services and liberation from institutions demonstrated in Washington, DC this week. Members of ADAPT visited the federal department of health and human services and the White House, where 53 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience. During the demonstration, ADAPT members declared that they’d rather go to jail than go into a nursing home.
  • Peter Singer (still) calls for the killing of disabled babies – A professor at Princeton University has once again suggested that it would be reasonable for the government and insurance companies to not pay for the treatment of babies with severe disabilities. In 1993, Singer published a treatise “Practical Ethics” in which he called for non-voluntary euthanasia for “human beings who are not capable of understanding the choice between life and death,” including “severely disabled newborns.” He repeated this position in a radio interview last Sunday.