A False Sense of Mercy

On the website for the activist group Not Dead Yet, the group defines themselves as “a national grassroots disability rights group.” Meaning, they are a group of and for the common people seeking to rise up against some political or social order—the underdogs. One can find out more about these underdogs easily by clicking on the “about” tab and then searching through the “staff” and “board of directors” pages that appear. Some of the people listed on these pages mention a personal struggle with disability that inspired them to become disability advocates.   However the majority of the staff’s and board of directors’ profiles do not. Instead, the two to four paragraph profiles on these advocates focus on their impressive educations, multiple degrees, activism work, and outreach work.

The site reaches out to any and all audience members who wish to fight against euthanasia. Moreover, the site offers a multitude of ways to contact authors. On the “staff” page, the site offers the phone number and email of each staff member including the President and CEO, Research Analyst, New England Regional Director, and Director of Minority Outreach. Furthermore, there is a “contact” page that has the headquarters contact information as well as an outline one can follow in order to make the contacting process easier. This page encourages people to ask questions or give advice. And as for invitations to participate in advocacy, the site has a page titled “Toolkit Opposing Assisted Suicide” which offers an outline of several resources that are meant, “to assist in defeating proposals to legalize assisted suicide in state legislatures.” Also, the “Donate” page encourages viewers to donate to Not Dead Yet’s fiscal sponsor, the Center for Disability Rights (CDR). Lastly, the site encourages viewers to read, retweet, and comment on their various blog posts, op-eds, court briefs, and public presentations. The site seems to be encouraging anyone and everyone to get involved in the fight against assisted suicide without stipulations. Not Dead Yet believes that assisted suicide and euthanasia often targets people with disabilities because of the discriminatory and harmful belief that disabled lives are worthless. Not Dead Yet fights for lawful protection for people with disabilities who are often the targets of these perceived “mercy killings.” The main counter-argument that Not Dead Yet argues against is that people with disabilities have no quality of life and that it is understandable if they would rather die than live with their disability.

An example of Not Dead Yet’s message can be found in one of their Op-Ed pieces. Liz Carr’s Op-Ed piece entitled Legalising Assisted Dying is Dangerous for Disabled People. Not Compassionate. Liz Carr is a British activist, actor, comedian, and disabled woman who is also an activist against assisted suicide. Carr has protested for a ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide in the US as well as Australia. Carr is a frequently used author for Not Dead Yet’s article sections. Carr’s article is about the Belgian Paralympian and gold metalist Marike Vervoot who has said publicly that will eventually opt into euthanasia when her degenerative muscle condition makes it too painful to continue fighting. Similar to Not Dead Yet, this article points out that when a healthy person is having suicidal thoughts, it is seen as a tragedy that must be prevented, and yet when a person with a disability is having the same thoughts, it is seen as understandable and even brave. The article further argues that it is hypocritical and discriminatory for society to think this way and that disabled people seeking assisted-suicide should be met with care and evaluation rather than encouragement. This article is not strongly advertised on the Not Dead Yet website as it takes a couple clicks to the Op Ed section to access it, but the article does offer insightful consistent arguments against assisted suicide. Furthermore, the article refigures disability in that it gives a direct and refutable counterargument for euthanizing the disabled because they are weak, a waste on resources, or not getting any joy out of life. Vervoot offers a very different picture of disability—a picture of strength, athleticism, and ability. When people see Vervoot and hear her story, they are less inclined to think “she has that right” or “she had no quality of life anyway,” and are more inclined to ask “why?”

Carr uses a variety of rhetorical devices to further her point. One such rhetorical device is offering comparisons between the way disabled people and able-bodied people are treated. As previously mentioned, Carr passionately argued that there is a vast inequality between how able bodied people with suicidal thoughts are treated vs. how disabled people with suicidal thoughts are treated. Carr added to this argument with the help of an analogy. When talking about how suicidal disabled people are treated Carr declares, “Rather than telling us we have everything to live for- and we do- we are helped to the proverbial cliff edge and offered a push” (2016). Here, an analogy is drawn between offering patients assisted suicide and pushing them off a cliff. This analogy makes a few points. First, it emphasizes the fragile state a person with a disability must be in in order to ask for a doctor’s permission to commit suicide. A person with a disability asking for assisted suicide is in the same mental state as a person who teetering on the edge of a cliff, planning a fatal jump. The legal and merciful natures of a doctor’s office might make the situation seem civil, but this analogy reminds readers that regardless of lab coats and notarized signatures, if a patient is seeking suicide, they are clearly in a bad place mentally and should be treated as such. The second point this analogy made is that doctors are not only accepting their patient’s depression, but actively encouraging it. In Carr’s analogy, the doctor’s role is not only one of allowance, but of encouragement. Carr is making the point that doctors are funneling disabilities patients into the direction of suicide. In this way, Carr is suggesting that disabled people are not just unsupported, but they are actively being targeted and led to suicide. Therefore, the idea of assisted suicide as a solution for disabled people is made more gruesome by Carr’s use of analogy.

Furthermore, Carr compares a typical reaction to Vervoot’s decision to the reaction one might have if Usain Bolt was instead the Olympic athlete who was considering suicide. As previously mentioned, the general consensus of Vervoot’s decision has been admiration, understanding, and compassion. However, when faced with the idea of Usain Bolt making the same decision, one has a harder time drawing the same conclusions. Leading the audience to ask themselves why they view one Olympic athlete’s life as having so much more value than another’s. Faced with this comparison, one can see the hypocrisy of assisted suicide.

Another rhetorical device Carr uses to further her argument is the appeal to a person’s pathos or emotion. Pathos is used in literature to persuade an audience of something by creating an emotional response. For example, Carr points out “the value of a life is not just in its physicality but in our relationships with those around us” (2016). In this excerpt, Carr is talking about how our lives are not ours to discard, they belong to everyone around us. Meaning, when we commit suicide, we are not just taking our own life, but the life of a sibling, friend, son/daughter, etc. This point appeals to readers’ pathos because Carr is expanding the idea of a seemingly insignificant person with a disability to an actual person with a personality and family that will miss him/her dearly. This makes the reader feel sad and empathetic for the family and friends of this disabled person for experiencing a preventable loss. Furthermore, this quote makes the disabled person in question more human and therefore evokes a stronger emotional connection to that person. When a reader has a stronger emotional connection to a person, they will arguably care whether or not that person is receiving proper and humane medical attention.   Another example of pathos in Carr’s argument is when she lists the real reasons people have opted for assisted suicide. Carr states that it is he “loss of dignity, loss of autonomy, loss of ability to do daily activities, and fear of burden” which drive people to assisted suicide (2016). This information goes against the more common tale that people opt for assisted suicide because their pain is just too great. Furthermore, Carr argues that people with disabilities are often seen as a “drain” or “waste” of medical resources (2016). These statements are blunt and dark, making the reader have a strong emotional response of shock. To describe a human being as being stripped of their dignity and seen as less than garbage by the very people who should be protecting them is extremely alarming. It makes the audience feel dejected and angry, which drives the audience to ask more questions and feel more opposition. Moreover, the language Carr uses here is very similar to the language in a suicide note, not in a rational request for help. Carr puts these assisted suicide requests in the words of the people asking for them instead of listing the legal and medical jargon that most medical professionals use to make assisted suicide feel more civil. Therefore, Carr is using this emotional rhetoric to make the audience understand that assisted suicide can be just as much about depression and loss of will as ordinary suicide. And it is because of this great emotional response that this rhetoric elicits that the audience’s preconceived notions that assisted suicide compassionate are shattered. The audience is hit like a slap in the face with the reality that assisted suicide draws more parallels to regular suicide

To sum up, Liz Carr uses a variety of rhetorical devices in order to help her point that assisted suicide is cruel and dangerous for people with disabilities. Carr uses comparisons between the social norms of a person with a disability and that of an able-bodied person to show the irony and cruelty with which society treats people with disabilities. Moreover, Carr uses appeals to pathos so that her audience can build a stronger sense of urgency and care towards the subject. These rhetorical devices work towards Carr’s point that people with disabilities should be treated with compassion and respect rather than guided towards suicide. This idea is consistent with Not Dead Yet’s message and helps the organization further their message that assisted suicide and euthanasia are harsh and should not be legal.

Work Cited

Carr, Liz. “Legalising Assisted Dying Is Dangerous for Disabled People. Not Compassionate.” The Guardian. Not Dead Yet, 9 Sept. 2016. Web. 4 Feb. 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/09/legalising-assisted-dying-dangerous-for-disabled-not-compassionate&gt;.

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