Webcast archive: Pee, poo and other taboos

This week, we discuss taboos and euphemisms associated with disability.

Webcast archive: Pee, poo and other taboos

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss pee, poo and other taboos.

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


  • The topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia makes people very uncomfortable, to the point where they use euphemisms to avoid saying certain words.
  • People use euphemisms to talk about subjects that are difficult or embarrassing; to soften or retreat from disagreeable things.
  • For example there are several euphemisms for assisted suicide, such as:
    • Medical aid in dying
    • End-of-life care
    • The right to die
    • Dying with dignity
    • “Going to Switzerland.”
  • When the Hemlock Society and Compassion in Dying merged, the adopted the name “Compassion & Choices” which doesn’t even mention the idea of death.
  • Why use euphemisms? Because the public is more likely to support assisted suicide and euthanasia if the word “suicide” is absent.
  • Compassion & Choices put pressure on professional organizations, like the American Public Health Association, and governmental agencies in Oregon to remove the word “suicide” from their description of assisted suicide.
  • People are so afraid to talk about death, that the first draft of Québec’s Act Concerning End-of-life Care didn’t even indicate that “medical aid in dying” included euthanasia.
  • People with disabilities embody many characteristics that are unpleasant to the non-disabled.
    • The possibility of becoming disabled
    • A reminder of mortality
    • Loss of control of physical functions like urination, defecation and salivation.
  • For each of these, there are euphemisms.
    • Loss of independence = becoming disabled
    • End of life = reminder of mortality
    • Pee, poo and drool = bodily functions
  • In discussions of assisted suicide and euthanasia, you’ll also hear a lot of euphemisms. Let’s look at some:
    • Dignity – Means to maintain one’s personal hygiene and control of bodily functions; eating, urinating, defecating, etc., and the ability to use the toilet and wipe yourself without help. “Dignity” also includes bathing, personal grooming, and eating in a normal fashion according to ordinary rules of politeness.
    • Loss of dignity – Means a person cannot do these things without help, that she needs equipment or special products to do them, or that she does them poorly. And that’s the problem; dignity is really existential and a state of mind, and has no relation whatsoever to physical abilities.
    • Independence – In the lexicon of assisted suicide, “independence” means a whole and healthy body and mind.
    • Loss of independence – Happens when a person develops a physical, mental or sensory disability. In reality, it’s not the limitation that causes the loss of independence as such.  It’s more the environmental barriers, prejudices and public policy that limit people options, lock them in institutions, and inhibit their ability to make choices.
    • Suffering = Extreme physical pain and symptoms (except if you look at the reasons people ask for AS/E).
    • Mercy & Compassion = disregard and contempt
    • Choice = (only) the choice to die
    • Free and Informed = Agrees that death is the best and only option after hearing biased information, receiving no support or assistance for living, and having no viable choices.
    • Killing = medical care
    • Will, desire = what society wants for you.
    • Rights = 1. Obligation (as in “right to die”) 2.  Only what we say they are (as in “you have a right to life for a few months”).
    • Safeguards = Mirage, distraction
    • Oversight commission = window dressing
  • What can we do?
    • Come back to our bodies – Not in the sense of a 25-year-old yoga instructor, in the way a 65-year-old woman means it
    • Show no shame
  • Positive signs
    • Baby-boomers are growing older
    • Advertisements for incontinence products – Capitalism to the rescue
    • Disability pride – Campaigns already underway
      • “Get Your Belly Out” – Inflammatory Bowel Disease
      • “We Love Our Tubes” – John Kelly’s campaign