If you don't read anything else today, you can call it a good and important day just by reading this article. (Available on p. 2 below.) As you probably know, assisted suicide propagandists latch on to mantras such as "death with dignity," "the right to die," and "self-determination" and in turn receive only limited effective pushback from opponents of euthanasia. But then along comes Liz Carr, a person who suffers from a genetic disorder that prevents her from extending her muscles, who crafts a musical which has performed in the U.K. to rave reviews.
I can only say, "Bravo!" and again, "Bravo!" A musical (!) is an extraordinary-- and entertaining -- way to engage in cultural debate and offers an important supplement to debates, speeches, documentaries, and interviews. My hope is that other creative people hearing of this musical will be inspired to give reign to their own creative juices and produce similar musicals or other inventive creations that relate to contemporary debates. I note that Dinesh D'Souza in a recent speech said he would be moving from documentaries to producing full length dramas in order to reach more people.
Here is a brief introduction to Ms. Carr's "Assisted Suicide: The Musical":
I’m choosing choice
So are my girls and boys
Choice is king, there’s no denyin’
Cut my choice, and I’ll start cryin’
So runs one of the many catchy tunes in “Assisted Suicide: The Musical.” The title and subject are dark, but British theatergoers don’t seem to care. “Assisted Suicide” has received rave reviews since it was first shown last year, and when I saw it in January a packed house gave it a standing ovation. That’s all the more remarkable given the musical’s anti-euthanasia message, at a time when voters on both sides of the Atlantic are making their peace with the practice.
“We’ve become used to clapping along and thinking that choice is good,” the musical’s creator, Liz Carr, tells me in a recent interview at the Southbank arts center in London. “It’s like a mantra: the right to die, the right to die, the right to die. We just clap along, and we don’t know what assisted suicide means or what the consequences are—that we’re essentially asking the state to be involved in people’s death.”
Euthanasia will likely be on the legislative agenda in Australia, Finland, Portugal and Sweden this year. In jurisdictions where medically assisted suicide is already permitted—Belgium, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and six U.S. states among them—the definition of who qualifies keeps expanding.
Holland and Belgium have the world’s most permissive laws. In November, a doctor in the Netherlands euthanized a 41-year-old father of two who had struggled with alcoholism; the Dutch government is considering a draft law to legalize euthanasia for perfectly healthy people who hold “a well-considered opinion that their life is complete.” Belgium in 2014 removed the minimum age for euthanasia, and in September a terminally ill 17-year-old became the first minor to take advantage of the change. Both countries routinely euthanize patients with dementia and depression.
The stakes are especially high for people with disabilities, like Ms. Carr, who suffers from a genetic disorder that prevents her from extending her muscles, among other impairments. Such people watch the assisted-suicide movement’s recent strides and wonder what it all means for their future in societies where the government is the main, often the sole, health-care provider.
Yet a steady stream of uncritical coverage in the media continues to push the euthanasia movement along. Such coverage usually takes the form of TV documentaries that follow, and gently cheer, a disabled or terminally ill patient’s journey to the death chamber. Thanks but no thanks, says Ms. Carr.
“I was really, really angry at the media portrayal of this subject matter and the amount of bias and the amount of propaganda,” she says. Watching the documentaries, “I’d say, ‘But it’s not that simple! Why is nobody looking for alternatives or talking to other people?’ ”
So she created a musical. Much of “Assisted Suicide” involves Ms. Carr taking on her alter ego, a character named Documentary Liz. Film footage shows Documentary Liz living a humdrum disabled life, while a lachrymose melody plays and a narrator dourly describes the scene: “Liz feels trapped, imprisoned by her difficult circumstances. Liz has few freedoms, few choices on a day-to-day basis.”
Onstage, the real Ms. Carr rolls her eyes and provides a running commentary, acidly mocking the documentary clichés. “Music is always used very manipulatively,” she tells me. “The music feeds the emotional journey. It tells you, ‘This is a tragedy. This has one way to go.’ ” The aim is to normalize a choice that was unthinkable a generation ago, with the result that people like her are impelled to conclude: “You know what, my life isn’t worth living.”
Growing up with a severe disability, Ms. Carr recalls, “life was bleak.” She excelled at academics, but no amount of therapy seemed to improve her physical ability. She was never consciously suicidal, “but I didn’t see a future or an escape. I couldn’t see a point. So in that sense I’ve been to very dark places.” She pressed on, however, and now enjoys national prominence as an actress and disability activist.
Ms. Carr, who was born in 1972, considers herself lucky that euthanasia wasn’t on the cultural radar when she was young. “Assisted suicide has become part of the narrative of death, of illness, of disability,” she says. That was the work of euthanasia proponents, who knew that “it takes 15 to 20 years to get social support and to get the culture to change—then you pass the law.”
The main watchword of the euthanasia movement is dignity. The argument runs that disability, terminal illness, senility and the like rob it from their victims. Assisted suicide allows people in such circumstances to die on their own terms, before their conditions erase their sense of personhood. In making their pitch, some proponents use the portmanteau “dignicide”—dignified suicide—a coinage that comes in for much ridicule in Ms. Carr’s musical.
“We’ve lost the word ‘dignity’ to the concept of ‘death with dignity,’ ” says Ms. Carr. The truth, she insists, is that “your state of health, mental or physical, has no bearing on your dignity.” If voters and lawmakers take the view that dignity derives from good health and ability, then all sorts of weak and vulnerable people can be discarded.
The death-with-dignity case is often based not on the lived experience of people with disabilities, but on the subjective judgments of others. “I don’t think it would take much to convince any doctor that I ought to go,” says Ms. Carr. “Because the lives of certain groups of people are so devalued, and the quality of our lives is seen as so poor, and because there’s so little positive or nuanced representation of disability and illness.”
Her musical thus provides a necessary cultural corrective: I’m disabled, but who are you to say I lack dignity?
All this talk of “death with dignity” also provides a convenient alibi for the failure to care for people who are disabled, ill or even lonely. “Why is it that we only care about people at the end?” asks Ms. Carr. “Why don’t we visit our aging parents? Why do we put them in homes? Let’s get better at all that stuff.”
Besides, in practice dignicide isn’t all that dignified. A doctor at a Dutch nursing home last year asked family members to hold an octogenarian patient down while she administered the lethal dose. The patient had signed up for assisted suicide earlier, but she woke up during the procedure and began resisting. Authorities in January cleared the physician of any wrongdoing after concluding that she had acted “in good faith.”
The other slogan for euthanasia is self-determination. That phrase was used at least 97 times in the various government hearings that resulted in Belgium’s 2002 legalization, according to the religious-freedom advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom. Autonomy and self-determination are at the heart of the Western liberal project: Shouldn’t people have the choice of how and when they die?
Ms. Carr’s answer is: Whose choice? Whose determination?
“Even if you go to the doctor where assisted suicide is legal,” she says, “you don’t get it on demand. You have to jump through some hoops. The doctor will make the choice.” It’s a subtle but crucial point: “Legalizing euthanasia doesn’t empower you. It empowers doctors.” In the context of the modern welfare state, that means empowering agents of the government.
Legalization hides a dramatic action—the taking of life—behind the veil of the patient-doctor relationship, with all the power imbalances inherent in it.
Some 13,000 assisted suicides have taken place in Belgium since legalization in 2002. How many of those cases did the country’s euthanasia oversight body, the Federal Control and Evaluation Commission, refer for potential criminal investigation? Only one, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. A physician who serves as a chairman of that federal commission is, and has been since its founding, among Belgium’s main assisted-suicide providers.
The steady increase in the number of suicides is another red flag. Proponents of legalization in Belgium vowed that it would be used only in terminal cases and then very rarely. But in the 2014-15 reporting period, 15% of the nearly 4,000 cases were nonterminal, and 3% involved people in mental or behavioral anguish, with what the commission described as a “notable increase” in dementia cases.
The line between “exercising autonomy” and feeling goaded into assisted suicide is blurry, especially for vulnerable people who are already made to feel they are a burden. “We don’t applaud healthy people deciding to kill themselves in the name of autonomy,” Ms. Carr says. “We conveniently herald choice and autonomy as concepts that should be supported for people who are disabled and ill but not for everyone else.”
People can always commit suicide, she says, but to give the state the power to facilitate it is to invite pressure on people like her: “How do we decide who qualifies? Why do we say that being disabled or ill—why is that OK justification, but being in anguish because you’ve been dumped by your boyfriend, or lost a child, isn’t?”
A parent despondent over the loss of a child is rightly told: You must go on. We will do everything we can to support you. “But we tell the disabled person, ‘I understand you, and I support your right to go,’ ” Ms. Carr says. “As long as we have an inkling that that might be happening, we can’t legalize it.”
Assisted suicide isn’t ultimately about autonomy, Ms. Carr thinks. “It’s about fear of mortality,” which is harder to manage in an increasingly secular society. “Religion, certainly in the U.K., used to hold our fears and our discussions about death. That’s where we saw death, in church or in funerals, and that helped us and provided us with a way through.” She’s quick to add: “I say this as an atheist.”
“But now we don’t have anywhere to discuss death,” she continues. “Assisted suicide holds those fears” and “allows people to have this outpouring of concern and worries that are very human but that have nowhere to go.” Proponents, she says, “want their reasoning for ending their life to be justified. They want legal and medical approval for ending their life. That’s it.”
Don’t call it dignicide.
Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial writer in London.
-- Aditional information on Ms Carr - http://weareunlimited.org.uk/commission/liz-carr/ -
'A song, a dance and a reason to live' Huffington Post
'Liz is assured, bitingly funny, self-deprecating and sharp...' North West End
If you’d like to read more about my reasons for opposing assisted suicide, this is a piece I wrote for ITN in 2015 in the run up to the Assisted Dying Bill being debated in the House of Commons
Not Dead Yet’s friends and allies include:
This is what audiences are saying about the show
Join in the conversation at #AssistedSuicideTheMusical
- 'Actress Liz Carr stuns audience' at Labour Party Conference, Nov 2016
- Watch an interview on Hope: preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide Facebook page with Liz, Nov 2016
- Read Liz's piece for The Guardian, 9 Sept 2016
- Listen to Liz on BBC Front Row, 9 Sept 2016
- Watch Liz on BBC Ouch! Facebook Live, 9 Sept 2016
- A serious business, what can comedy do - Mosaic Science
- 'When assisted death is legal' radio documentary for BBC World Service - Part 1 / Part 2
- In 2014, the House of Lords debated an Assisted Dying Bill, listen to Liz’s interview with Radio 4’s The World Tonight
- A fantastic write up of the protest in 2015 outside Parliament by Standard Issue (and why Not Dead Yet, why myself and other disabled people oppose assisted suicide)
Interviews with the Artist Taxi Driver and Liz Carr - in three parts, it’s a long watch but if you have time for just one, no. 2 is probably best! They'll pop up in the side bar on You Tube...