Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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The way people treat their familiar is often a good indicator of how they’ll treat their fellow humans. I say familiars, because "pet" just doesn’t convey the relationship we can have with dogs or cats. Our dog is undergoing multiple medical tribulations. We’ve been told that it might be kinder to just put her to sleep. Euthanasia. I was tempted to ask these people if they’d kill their kid because they had to undergo a couple expensive surgeries…

An acquaintance of mine recently sold her house, and moved into a smaller house. It was not convenient for her and her husband to maintain the large property. They had a 10 year old yellow labrador. I received an email from her stating that she was looking for a new owner for the dog. If she didn’t find a place, she would get the dog put to sleep! I cannot conceive of such a thing. I just can’t understand it at all.

Skeet was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in January 2009. A toe was removed. We were told we had 6 to 8 weeks left with her. 7 months later, she’s still with us. She’s still happy.

We noticed a new lump growing, and we went back to the vet. X-Rays and examination showed that the cancer had not spread to lungs or lymph nodes. That was good. But she lost another toe.

In the meantime, she’s had glaucoma issues. Completely blind in one eye, losing vision in the other. We can’t manage the pressure in the blind eye with drops anymore. The vet recommended we remove the eye – it will make Skeet more comfortable. She’s to go for surgery next week for the eye.

It is at that point that I’ve been told we should just put her to sleep.

And we’re not. It’s not that we’re selfish. If her quality of life was decreased, if she was suffering, we would do that, even if it broke our hearts.

The thing is, other than the pain coming from her swollen eye, or that coming from the cancerous lump, or now post-surgery, Skeet is not in pain. She has a few aches like everyone who’s aging. She’s an old girl of 13+. She’s happy. She gets excited about dinner and treats and play. She wags her tail like mad. She cuddles and licks and bounces off the wall like a puppy. Her quality of life is high. Why would we kill her?

Would you kill your child if it had cancer and an eye gone wonky? Would you kill your child because it’s not *convenient* anymore? Would you euthanise your child because it’s too expensive?

Then there’s another level of euthanasia. There’s physician assisted suicide. For humans. This is a rather controversial topic. I am against the legalisation of physician assisted suicide.

Of course, I understand that for some people, that is the only way out. Particularly people in terminal phases of cancer, where there is no more quality of life, and no hope of recovery. But in these situations, even though it’s not been legal in most countries, it happens. And it is up to the prosecutors to decide whether to pursue the doctor or not. They usualy don’t.

It took 3 different trials to finally get Jack Kevorkian to jail for murder. He killed 110 people that we know of. That’s right. Jack Kevorkian killed one hundred and ten people. From that number of murders, he was prosecuted only three times. Two of those times he was acquitted. The people he killed were mostly women (70%). They were primarily in their 50’s. The majority had disabilities no worse than mine, and those conditions were not terminal nor degenerative.

The person he was convicted for murder was Thomas Youk. He was the subject of a "60 Minutes" segment. What they did not show in the documentary was shown at the trial. I was there. I was at the trial. I saw how just before Kevorkian pushed the plunger, Mr. Youk said "Wait!". Kevorkian obviously saw and heard him. Yet he went ahead and killed Youk.

Physician assisted suicide, under the guise of helping some people who are suffering terminal and painful phases of medical conditions, could easily degenerate into open season on people with disabilities. Ok, you might argue that I’m pushing it, but look at what happened with Kevorkian…

The other aspect of legalised physician assisted suicide is that where it has been legal (Oregon, Switzerland, Netherlands), the elderly have gone ahead with it. Often, they’ve done it because they felt they were a burden on their family.

So, perhaps people who would kill their dogs because they need a couple surgeries, or because it’s a bit expensive, or inconvenient, perhaps those people feel it would be ok to kill people with disabilities.

I won’t respond to flames, but I welcome a good and solid discussion on this :)