Saturday, November 01, 2008

Media's Love Affair With Suicide Outlaws

The media never tire of fawning stories about people who assist others in self destruction. The latest example of this journalistic groupieism comes out of the Vancouver Sun, in which a reporter goes to the home of an assisted suicide facilitator named Russell Ogden.

From the story, byline Douglas Todd:

I'm about to leave the New Westminster home of one of the world's foremost experts on assisted suicide when he invites me downstairs. It seems like any other spartan, low-ceilinged basement. But then Kwantlen Polytechnic University sociologist Russel Ogden lifts a curtain under the stairs. He pulls out a steel tank that's a little bigger than a rugby ball. It's pink, cheerfully labelled: "Balloon Time."

The tank is full of helium. Ogden then brings out a large, clear plastic bag, with a tube attached. White felt and elastic are sewn around the open end. That helps the plastic bag fit snugly around a human neck. It's the latest suicide kit. Technically, it's a "NuTech death" kit. Some call it "helium-in-a-bag." The kit can render a person unconscious in 10 seconds. Dead in a few minutes."You don't have to go to your doctor for an assisted suicide. You can go to Toys R Us," said Ogden, 46.
Journalism has become a prime mover in the culture of death. Coverage of people like Ogden and Jack Kevorkian is often fawning and celebratory--often leaving out important facts, such as Kevorkian's desire stated in his book Prescription Medicide to engage in human vivisection of people he was euthanizing. Or that he once took a man's kidneys and offered them at a press conference, first come, first served. But why go there when there is a culture to change?

Like most stories of this kind, Todd's prose reeks with fawning admiration and terminal nonjudmentalism:

But this is not another news story about the complexities of the academic freedom battles in which Ogden is constantly embroiled. This is mainly a piece about what goes on in the heart and mind of a man who has made a career of studying ways to kill oneself...

When those planning suicides ask Ogden whether what they're doing is right or wrong, he avoids answering. He tells them he's there to discuss their perceptions, not his. "But I do tell them, 'I would certainly not be disappointed if you decided to live another day.'" Ogden displays a steely respect for choice, a live-and-let-die libertarian streak, which seems to go to the core of his being. He'll confront realities most want to avoid.He thinks it's worth it. Most people who want to suicide feel judged, he said, because few loved ones are willing to talk about it. "They typically say to me, 'You're the only one I can have this discussion with.' "

Notice the descriptions, such as "steely resolve," and principles that "go to the core of his being." Would an MSM outlet ever describe a pro lifer in such terms? You all know the answer. Such advocates possessing the same personality traits as Ogden would be depicted as "rigid," or "obsessed," or demonstrating "the zealotry of a true believer."

And of course, the only opponent quoted is Catholic and comes to his position from a religious perspective. This is another form of media bias: Choose an opponent to quote that the reporter thinks will alienate readers. Canada is an overwhelmingly secularized country with most people resenting religious moralizing. So, of course, secular opponents of assisted suicide, such as disability rights activists, are not usually quoted at length. That would get in the way of the storyline that the MSM wants to tell; which is of the courageous modern rationalists selflessly vying against superstitions religionists to bring compassion and freedom to society.

Contrast that with a supporter quoted in the story:

Dr. Boudewijn Chabot, a noted Dutch psychiatrist who has researched the use of sleeping pills and starvation to obtain a "dignified" death, said Ogden's research "is absolutely unique in his investigation methods. I know of no other researcher who has published first-hand observational reports on a self-chosen death."
Conveniently omitted in the description of the "noted" Dr. Chabot is this little factoid: Chabot is best known for assisting the suicide of a woman who wanted to die because she was grieving the deaths of her two children--a case that led to the Dutch Supreme Court ruling that euthanasia/assisted suicide could be delivered for existential suffering, not just physical illness.

Journalism is dying because it has become so ideological that it can no longer be trusted. This is particularly true about culture of death issues, in which killers are lauded and life savers ignored. Such are the times in which we live. But reporters should not be surprised when they get laid off because the industry has hit upon hard financial times. When you utterly and permanently alienate at least 1/3 of your potential readership, it becomes increasingly difficult to make headway in a milieu in which the Internet is turning print media into the modern equivalent of the buggy whip industry.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part: The story tells us that Ogden saw a man sprawled on the sidewalk drunk, and called for help. What a guy!

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