Disability Activists Blast PBS for ADA Anniversary Promotion of 'Better Dead than Disabled' Film

"The choice of this particular air date is an affront to people with disabilities in this country," says Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group based in Forest Park, IL. "It's the 15th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, a law that is, for people with disabilities, the nation's largest minority, what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is for people of color. Not only is this being ignored by PBS, but the network is featuring and promoting a program about a person so terrified of aging and disability that he commits suicide. In terms of sensitivity to diversity issues, this puts PBS in the same league as the Fox News Channel. And, no, that is not a compliment."

Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, notes that the film is a slanted portrayal of the broader issues. "Normally, we don't comment when a rich, privileged guy decides to take his own life. We didn't comment when Hunter Thompson shot himself. After all, Thompson wasn't asking for a change in the law, a permission slip, or help from anyone."

Drake says the situation is different with "The Self-Made Man." "It's being promoted as a tool for adding to the public discourse in regard to assisted suicide, an issue confronting the U.S. Supreme Court and legislators in California. Whether society will treat some suicidal people differently than others is a public policy issue. The film, however, frames the issue as a dispute between religious conservatives and those who "believe in autonomy."

Coleman and Drake say this ignores the fact that secular disability rights groups have been at the forefront of opposing legalization of assisted suicide. Twelve national disability groups filed an amicus brief supporting the Attorney General in the Gonzalez v. Oregon case currently before the Supreme Court.

Moreover, disability opposition is well known to the official "advisors" to the documentary. Three out of the four credited advisors to the program are long-time assisted suicide/euthanasia advocates: Paul Spiers, former board Chair of "Compassion and Choices;" Margaret Battin, advisory board member of the Death with Dignity National Center; and Dennis Kuby, former regional director (California) of the Hemlock Society. These "advisors" could have advised a truthful portrayal of the policy debate, including disability opposition. "Obviously, balance is one thing producer Susan Stern wasn't looking for," says Drake.

Source: Not Dead Yet, HT: Open Book




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