Introduction

Webcast archive: The Disability Day of Mourning

This week, we discuss the connection between disabled people killed by relatives vs. assisted suicide, and remember two brilliant advocates we lost this week.

Webcast archive: The Disability Day of Mourning

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

  • The Disability Day of Mourning
  • Update on the Cadotte case
  • Remembering Carrie-Ann Lucas and Katherine Araniello

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

THE DISABILITY DAY OF MOURNING

  • Every year on March 1st, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), Not Dead Yet, and other organizations hold vigils for the Disability Day of Mourning, to remember and honour disabled people who have been killed by their parents, relatives and caregivers. The Day of Mourning website lists more than 1,000 disabled people who have been killed by caregivers, including 650 people killed over the past five years.
  • Legal authorities and mainstream media often attribute these deaths to the “hardships” faced by loved ones, which are blamed on the person’s disability.  The public’s sympathy is directed toward the (nondisabled) caregiver, rather than the disabled person who died. The Day of Mourning is meant to put the focus back onto the disabled person, to counteract the apathy of the legal system and the media, and remind the public that the deaths of disabled people are not “acceptable losses.”
  • Given TVNDY’s focus on life-ending measures that have an excessive impact on disabled people, we thought we’d talk about the differences between public reactions to assisted suicides versus when disabled people are killed by loved ones.
  • The Tragedy
    • Murders of disabled people are described by the media as tragedies … for “desperate” caregivers, rather than the person who lost their life. News accounts quote neighbors and friends who express relief that the caregiver is “freed from the tremendous burden” and responsibility of caring for their disabled charge.
    • In the case of assisted suicide, the “tragedy” is the illness or disability which “ruins” a person’s life, or cuts it short.  Whether or not the person has physical pain, they “suffer” with a disability. Upon becoming disabled, a person is no longer perceived to be “fully themselves.” Assisted suicides aren’t thought of as tragedies because the person got what they asked for.
  • In the Limelight
    • Perpetrators often evade moral and legal blame, and get media attention, by claiming they acted out of mercy.  The media respond by publishing tributes to the “hardworking, stressed” parents and caregivers. The person who was killed is an afterthought at best; at worst they’re regarded as a burden that has been removed from their family and society.
    • The people we hear about who die by assisted suicide have thrust themselves into the media spotlight, as part of their efforts to have laws changed. If they’re not already well-known (like Dr. Donald Low) they become celebrities, like Brittany Maynard in the U.S. or Audrey Parker here in Canada. The media attention they receive focuses on the negative aspects of their condition – many of which can be lessened with the right supports – and the supposed “need” for death because they see it as the only possible relief.
  • Besides the in-person vigils to be held across Canada and the US, ASAN will sponsor a virtual vigil tonight, broadcast on YouTube. The event also has a Facebook page with links for those who are interested in learning more about the Day of Mourning.

UPDATE ON THE CADOTTE CASE

  • Michel Cadotte has been found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 killing of Jocelyne Lizotte. Mr. Cadotte suffocated his wife with a pillow, claiming that he could no longer bear to witness her “suffering” with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Upon hearing the verdict, Mr. Cadotte stated “I feel better. I’ll mourn now.”  The sentencing phase of the trial will begin next week.
  • Mr. Cadotte’s lawyer, Elfriede Duclervil, argued the killing was “an impulsive act”. Caring for Ms. Lizotte caused an unbearable amount of “depression, exhaustion and stress” for her husband. The prosecution said there was no evidence of mental illness, but that Cadotte took “Lizotte’s fate into his own hands when she was at her most vulnerable,” with full knowledge of his actions.
  • Quebec Superior Court Justice Helene Di Salvo advised jurors to “judge the act Mr. Cadotte committed, but also his state of mind at that precise moment [when Ms. Lizotte was killed].”

REMEMBERING CARRIE-ANN LUCAS AND KATHERINE ARANIELLO

  • Carrie Ann Lucas, a teacher, minister, lawyer, and disability rights activist, died on February 24 at the age of 47.  Her health deteriorated following the denial by her insurance company of needed medications for an infection a year ago, which caused the loss of her voice. Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet founder and executive director, called Carrie “one of the sharpest minds in our movement.”
  • Carrie founded Disabled Parents Rights to provide advocacy and legal representation to parents with disabilities, and herself adopted four disabled children.
  • In addition to her activities with ADAPT, Carrie joined the board of Not Dead Yet in January of 2013.  She photographed the NDY protest at the World Federation of Right to Die Societies’ September, 2014 meeting in Chicago. She supported the disability community’s response to the film “Me Before You” by producing a video montage accompanying Johnny Crescendo’s song “Not Dead Yet.”
  • As a resident of Colorado she was a leader in opposing efforts to legalize assisted suicide there.  She organized direct actions and testified before the state senate’s Veterans and Military Affairs Committee about the proposed bill in 2016.  In her testimony she stated:
    • “I am a person with multiple disabilities.  I have a progressive neuromuscular disease that has caused me to lose muscle function throughout my entire body. I have weakness in every muscle in my body, including my facial and eye muscles.  My organs are affected, I have low vision, and I am very hard of hearing.  I have a gastrostomy tube, and I am dependent on a ventilator to breathe.  Without my ventilator, I don’t have years to live.  I don’t have 6 months, 6 weeks, or 6 days, I have hours.  I have a terminal condition – very much like ALS, and I would be covered by this bill.  I understand the sponsors have said this bill is not for the disabled, but respectfully the sponsors are incorrect.  This bill directly affects me, my family and my community.
    • “If I were to become depressed, either situational depression, or major depression, and this bill passes, I could go to my doctor and ask for a lethal prescription.  Because I have a disability, and because physicians are terrible at evaluating quality of life of people with disabilities, I would likely be given that lethal prescription, rather than be referred for mental health treatment.  And if my doctor did not give me the lethal prescription, I could simply doctor shop until I found one who would. A woman in my situation but without my disabilities would not get a lethal prescription, and would most likely encounter a vigorous effort to ensure she did not take her life. That is disability discrimination.”
  • Carrie also took a leadership role in the effort to save the life of 14-year-old Jerika Bolen.  She pointed out the double standard of providing suicide prevention to some teenagers, but not others.
  • You can read NDY’s tribute, and get more information about Carrie Ann Lucas at her blog: disabilitypride.com.
  • The disability community lost another stellar artist and advocate this week with the death of Katherine Araniello.  Her life and art were beyond unapologetic.  One friend called her “a creative explosion, constantly using her art to provoke and challenge us.”
  • Katherine was an author, performance artist, musician, filmmaker, visual artist, and pusher of envelopes.  I “met” Katherine through her music video “Sick Bitch Blues;” a brilliant, dark, in-your-face affirmation of life.  (Some people may find Katherine’s work offensive, but no one will ever find it boring.)