Monday, July 25, 2005

Department of Bad Timing

See this press release from Not Dead Yet, which begins:

In an all-too-common feat of cultural insensitivity, PBS has chosen July 26th, the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to air “POV: The Self-Made Man.” The documentary features the videotaped statements of Bob Stern, an elderly man deciding to commit suicide rather than face possible disability, medical uncertainly or complications.

“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. “The 15th anniversary of the ADA 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 it 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," he said. "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.


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