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Tuesday 09 November 2010

Not Our Concern? LGBT Politics and Assisted Suicide

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 4th January 2010

Why have most LGBT communities ignored the growing debate about voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide?
When I said most, there have been some exceptions to this general rule. Of course, one was Australia in the mid-nineties, when the Northern Territory decriminalised voluntary euthanasia for two years, only to have the right-wing Howard administration use its federal veto against the legislation. The defunct Outrage FAB magazine dealt with the question of a Canadian doctor who performed apparently non-consensual euthanasia without requests from PLWAs. At greater length, there has also been Roger Magnuson's book Angels of Death (2002) which dealt with underground euthanasia provision for endstage PLWAs. magazine covered that.
However, in New Zealand, PLWAs have understandably been more focused on concerns about access and availability to protease inhibitors, given recurrent bottlenecks in Pharmac and Medsafe's approval procedures for new medications. Within the lesbian community, Herceptin access became a similarly vexed issue for some lesbian breast cancer survivors.
Within the euthanasia debate, it has tended to be straight women who are the primary advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide reform, whether in the context of their own terminal illness, or those of loved ones. This may be due to feminist emphases on bodily integrity, patient consent and autonomy, meaningful informed consent and recognition that as women live longer, they may be more likelier to experience degenerative medical conditions that compromise their hard-won independence.
However, these women may have gay male friends or family members who provide emotional and practical support while they prepare to make their final choice about death with dignity. Canadian federal MP Svend Robinson was a close friend of euthanasia reform advocate Sue Rodriguez.  Edward Turner was the openly gay son of Dr Anne Turner, whose battle against an ultimately fatal neurological condition led her to travel to Switzerland for an assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic, after nursing her husband through the same condition.  Oddly, lesbians have not joined their straight female counterparts in this context.
Apart from the instances cited above, though, most LGBT media outlets have sidestepped the issue, as have stalwart LGBT community activists like Peter Tatchell, LGBT investigative journalists like Johann Hari, and national LGBT rights organisations in most western countries. After Australia's brief experience, its LGBT media seem silent today. With the longevity benefits of protease inhibitors, it seems to have become an ancillary or incidental issue for PLWAs. As Pinknews reported, there has been one case of British gay male assisted suicide, but the Dignitas client here was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
This debate won't go away. As I've noted beforehand, one of the epidemiological side-effects of climate change will probably be insect or animal disease vector shifts in population distribution, current predator constraints and migratory routes, thus leading to runs on pharmaceutical supplies, hospital bed occupancy, medical staff time commitments, and wear and tear on medical equipment. If anything, this debate will only intensify in the future. When it does, what should we do?
Roger Magnuson: Angels of Death: Exploring the Euthanasia Underground: Melbourne: Melbourne University Press: 2002.
Peter Davis: “The Ins and Outs of Regulating Pharmaceuticals in New Zealand” Australian Health Review: 28: 2 (8/11/04): 171-181. Available online (Abstract/PDF)

AIDS Committee of Toronto: Discussion on Assisted Suicide
Marc Spindelman: "Some Initial Thoughts About Sexuality and Gay Men With AIDS in the Debate About Assisted Suicide

Craig Young - 4th January 2010

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