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  • Claire Freeman

THE PERFECT STORM: NEOLIBERALISM AND THE KILLING OF THE DISABLED



Freedom or Fairness. Noam Chomsky once asked the question, do we want fairness from a society built from the ashes of our world wars that heroed in welfare reforms and an era of equality, or freedom, the child from the 1970’s. A child who wanted to deregulate the policies that cradled democracy, a child who through tantrums and personal wealth, has now created a neoliberal culture and economy where currency is King. Its insidious takeover disguised as freedom has fooled everyone into believing that opportunity is bountiful, our destiny is our own to create. If we have a will, we have a way - this is what we are told.

But how does this manifest in ways which perhaps we haven’t considered may be detrimental to ourselves, to society and to the world? A world where biopolitical racism is rife yet hidden within political agendas and ‘the good of mankind’. A world where we see Greek people as lazy, stupid due to their own stupidity and mismanagement of their economy. A world where Greek public assets have been sold at bargain prices to other European countries, a world where new debt has been forced upon a country who is suffering from its highest rates of unemployment, suicide and is drowning from imposed and crippling austerity measures. When did that become tolerable for the world? Did we stop caring? Or is our desire to blame and hoard so ingrained we forgot to care about people?

I turn to another issue, an issue close to my heart. Ten to fifteen years ago, an idea was floated in New Zealand parliament, that of euthanasia. It was dismissed, but the seed had been planted and the idea of death with dignity was born. Initially it rallied against the kings of morality and curried favour with few, but as time went on, the idea gained momentum.

Ten to fifteen years is how long it has been suggested that it takes to change public opinion on an issue, and that issue is staring us in the face, in New Zealand at this very moment. With a ground swell of support, the new ‘End of Life’ choice bill has won the hearts of the majority, and why wouldn’t it? Who wants to suffer during those last moments of life? Who wants to feel the indignity a creeping death brings to the body? The new bill doesn’t talk of euthanasia, or even death, but dignity, life… those are marketable to a population terrified of the unknown.

In the media, the bill speaks about those with cancer suffering, those with terminal illnesses and it is palatable, it makes sense. But what of the other clauses? What of the clause that states people with an irremediable and grievous condition may also have that choice, to die with dignity. For many, these terms go by unnoticed, words are used that aren’t often used so it is ignored by most.

And what of the origin of the bill? Taken from the Bill in Canada, our sister nation, a country praised for its track record of ethical behaviour. How could they be wrong? But I suggest, perhaps they were. For the bill that goes through and will be written up as law in New Zealand, I believe is as dangerous as handing a loaded gun to a toddler. I am that child. If you had given me that choice during my darkest moments, I would have chosen death because I am disabled, I fit the criteria and no one can say I do not as I was encouraged to seek assisted suicide during my darkest moments from the very people at the end of the line; the health professionals.

But life is never so simple and I won’t blame them for telling me to choose death over life due to tetraplegia, so who is to blame? Who will be to blame for needless deaths, killing those of us who are most vulnerable during our darkest moments? Is it a by-product of an inevitable neoliberal world where economy comes first, before humanity, before thinking about the consequences of getting rid of people deemed by society to be of no value?

I can’t stop the perfect storm of a neoliberal world and its tsunami engulfing everything in its path, paving a way for success of very few and poverty for the majority. All I can do is put forth a seed. So I want you to think about who you admire. What artist do you love? Which scientist do you feel has made a significant contribution to humanity? Was it Van Gogh? Einstein? Extreme examples of people who, in the Netherlands at least, would have been given the option of death for their mental illness. They are disabled, and like New Zealand, the Benelux countries; Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg have changed the criteria of severely disabled to include the most vulnerable groups, even the elderly are able to be assisted in their own death.

Many will breathe a sigh of relief at the option being made available, because suffering is something none of us want, and life for many of the groups who are eligible do go through immense suffering… I should know. But out of suffering can sometimes come greatness, epiphanies, moments of change. I changed, I grew and I’m so glad I’m still here because I will, I am making a difference, a positive difference to many lives.

Humanity needs the people we think we don’t need, nor want. We need adaptability, we need compassion, we need difference. So don’t give me the option to choose death when I’m grieving, because I will, as will many, but doing so will eliminate some of the people that would otherwise be gifts to humanity and create a world where love, kindness, innovation and compassion reign. Not money, not wealth, because happiness is rarely found in a bank account, but I believe it is found in the heart of someone you help, someone you love, and in yourself.

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