Dr. Phil owes more than 50 million people in the U.S. with disabilities an apology. Late last week he ran a segment that was unapologetically pro-death masquerading as an informed serious debate. The topic? Whether people with severe disabilities should be killed because they have no quality of life.
Couched in sympathetic close-ups, Dr. Phil made only the most rudimentary attempt at a balanced argument before showing his hand for what it was – that as a powerful member of the media he tacitly supported the idea that euthanasia is an acceptable and even desirable way to dispose of people who are unable to speak or fend for themselves.
On stage for the entire segment was Annette Corriveau, a Canadian mother with two adult children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Normal at birth, the siblings’ condition has deteriorated over time due to a rare genetic disease. Janet and Jeffery, now in their 30s, appear to be largely unable to communicate, see, or hear. They survive by being tube fed. They live in an assisted living facility where Annette visits them every other month or so.
Janet & Jeffrey.
Cue a clip of Janet and Jeffery, confined to wheelchairs and seemingly unaware of their surroundings.
The audience were hooked: A “loving” mother tortured by the horrible existence of her severely disabled children and who, at her wits’ end, sees killing them as the only solution. While it wasn’t so crassly stated, Annette wants to put them out of their misery. Killing as a loving parental act.
Things went downhill from there. Enter Geoffrey Fieger, the pro-death Kevorkian lawyer who eloquently argued that death is what the siblings deserve because it would release them from their existential hell on earth.
Right at the end of the segment, Dr. Phil introduced Ruthi, a mother of several children with disabilities, as the counter argument to all the death talk. In tears, Ruthi argued valiantly against what Corriveau and Feiger wanted to do. She was allowed three or four sentences, and that was that.
Ruthi, by the way, had to make her argument seated in the audience. No stage time for her and her views.
The segment was over except for one more thing: Dr. Phil asked the audience if they agreed with Corriveau and Feiger that Janet and Jeffery were better off dead. Almost everyone raised their hands to agree.
The audience response was not surprising seeing that the drumbeat throughout the segment was to end lives, lives most seemed to agree were not worth living.
Better to discard these creatures unable to reciprocate love and affection that cause their mother increasing emotional trouble. That’s why Annette Corriveau wants them dead more than anyone. She was closely followed, apparently, by the audience whose enthusiastic voting for death was little better than a Roman mob entreating the emperor for a thumbs-down death of a wounded gladiator.
Here was the pro-death monster unveiled: Death is better than life; poison or a needle can end all suffering. If you’re not exactly perfect you can’t possibly want to live in that condition, nor should your loved ones be put upon to visit you. Therefore, the put-upon have the right to get rid of you because they know what’s best for you (and for them, of course).
First, three photos from the segment’s guests, all of equal size (Feiger, Janet and Annette, Ruthi), convey the idea that they were each equally part of the segment. Not true.
Second, there are video clips of Corriveau, Dr. Phil, Janet and Jeffery, and Fieger. Ruthi only rated a brief quote right at the bottom of the story report.
At the very least, given his celebrity status, Dr. Phil should air another segment equally biased but this time on the side of human kindness, human dignity, and with the quite universal understanding that it is how we treat the most vulnerable among us that in time defines us as a society.
Until that happens, people with disabilities and their loved ones should steer clear of the show because pro-death apologists in very influential positions are the last thing we need.
Dr. Mark Mostert is the president of Disability Consultants International and is recognized nationally and internationally as an expert on disability issues. He is a consultant for the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.