This week I am going to be adding my signature to a letter being sent to Dr. Phil McGraw from a coalition of disabilities organizations and individuals concerned about the value of life. We are joining together to express our disappointment in Dr. Phil for a recent program focused on euthanasia.
Is this a topic that needs to be discussed? Definitely! Is this an issue about which more Americans need to be informed? Most certainly. However, what I must disagree with is how the topic was treated. It must be presented in a responsible manner, with a variety of opinions, beliefs and facts from a diverse range of sources.
This is where Dr. Phil let us down. In a recent episode of Dr. Phil, called "Deadly Consequences," he presented the idea that parents should have the right to euthanize their children, and he did so with such a bias as to practically promote this agenda. I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn that Dr. Phil was content to take such an approach, throwing integrity and fairness to the winds over such an important issue. We have worked with thousands of families who -- contrary to what Dr. Phil seemed to be promoting -- would never imagine euthanizing their severely disabled child. While they may face many challenges and battles, one battle is definitely not a struggle over killing their child.
Rather than have medical experts with facts and information, and equal time for families who have different opinions on the issue, Dr. Phil's primary guest was Annette Corriveau, who seeks to euthanize her two adult children who have a progressive genetic condition called Sanfilippo syndrome. Her story was presented at length and very sympathetically. Dr. Phil's next guest wasn't someone with an alternate viewpoint, but rather the attorney for Jack Kevorkian, who of course defended radical assisted suicide and euthanasia as practiced by Kevorkian, who allegedly aided in the deaths of more than 100 people, three-fourths of whom were not terminally ill.
To conclude the program, Dr. Phil finally presented a guest with an opposing viewpoint. However, she was only identified by her first name, "Ruthi," was only invited to speak from the audience, rather than the stage, was only given a minute to share her opinion, and no videos were shown of her children. That, in total, seemed to be Dr. Phil's attempt to "balance" the show.
At the end of the episode, Dr. Phil asked for a show of hands from the audience -- how many would agree that Corriveau should be able to "mercifully" kill her kids? And yes, he used "mercifully" in his question, therefore eliciting the response he wanted. It was no surprise that 90 percent of the audience, after having been exposed to such a biased production, voted in support of Corriveau.
In the online after-show "Dr. Phil Uncensored," Dr. Phil and his staff appeared to be surprised at the overwhelming support for Corriveau, praising themselves for getting "all the arguments" in and bringing "both sides out." I had a hard time not yelling at the computer screen when I saw that. I would challenge Dr. Phil, if he truly wants to present a variety of perspectives, that he have someone on the program from an organization such as ours, which seeks to support individuals with disabilities and their families in the belief that all life is valuable and worthy of respect.
I believe it was very irresponsible of Dr. Phil to approach this topic in this manner. It was no less than an assault on the lives and dignity of individuals with disabilities, who are already four to 10 times as likely to be abused as their nondisabled peers. Dr. Phil seems to believe that it's acceptable to de-value the lives of these individuals who are already too often treated as less than human, and I am deeply offended that he seems to think we are better off dead.
It's one thing to have these opinions as an individual in your private family discussions, but when parents of disabled young adults discuss their private thoughts about euthanasia in a public setting, it conveys much, much more than perhaps originally intended -- a public forum such as a national TV show like Dr. Phil's brings dark thoughts out of the closet and makes them appear socially acceptable, simply by airing them before a national audience. What was once "taboo," is suddenly thrust onto the stage of public conversation, and unfortunately, many people watching Dr. Phil that morning will now take their cues from those parents and professionals.
If one good thing comes from this show, it will be that people are more openly discussing this difficult topic. However, I am gravely concerned that this kind of programming is the extent of the education that most of the public will receive. There are so many more valuable and responsible resources out there to assist when it comes to making difficult medical decisions for our loved ones, and I would recommend people do their homework rather than trust a man who has now proven himself untrustworthy. We list a variety of resources on the website for the Christian Institute on Disability at www.joniandfriends.org/christian-institute-on-disability.
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