TASH has signed on to a letter protesting an episode of the Dr. Phil show, which presented the idea that parents should be able to euthanize their children who have intellectual disabilities. The show, which aired April 13, 2012, featured a largely biased discussion that began with Annette Corriveau, a woman with two adult children with a progressive genetic condition known as Sanfilippo syndrome. By not providing clear and balanced arguments against this abhorrent practice, the program conveyed social acceptance of euthanasia for people with disabilities by their family members, and further promoted violence against people with disabilities. The complete letter is below.
Dr. Phil McGraw
Dr. Phil Show
5482 Wilshire Boulevard #1902
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dear Dr. Phil:
The undersigned organizations are sending this letter in response to the April 13, 2012 segment of the Dr. Phil Show which presented the idea that parents should be able to euthanize their children who have intellectual disabilities. This outrageous proposal was portrayed in such an extremely unbalanced manner as to amount to a promotion of such a deadly proposition.
The show centered on Annette Corriveau, who has two adult children who have a progressive genetic condition called Sanfilippo syndrome. The show opened with a brief introduction of Corriveau, followed by an interview of her conducted by one of the producers. Over the course of the opening which took more than half of the segment, viewers were shown and/or told the following:
• Video of Corriveau’s two children from typical childhood to recent pictures as adults with disabilities;
• Depiction of intellectual and physical disabilities developed as a result of the condition;
• Discussion of the changes in their appearance as they got older, implying that their “not normal” appearance is tragic;
• The fact that Corriveau institutionalized both children when they were young.
• Video of one of Corriveau’s visits: she reported visiting them every two months, but doesn’t touch them, because they don’t react to her.
Nothing about other aspects of the lives of Corriveau’s adult children is presented, such as whether or not they react to staff people they see every day. After the opening, Dr. Phil, you engaged in dialogue with Corriveau, admitted not knowing what the two adults would want but also said that you wouldn’t want to live “like that.”
The second guest in the segment was attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who defended Jack Kevorkian, the assisted suicide and euthanasia advocate who claimed to have assisted the deaths of about 130 people. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, over two-thirds of Kevorkian’s victims were people with disabilities who were not terminally ill. During this recent segment, Fieger argued that a health care guardian’s right to consent to or refuse medical treatment should be extended to include active euthanasia such as a lethal injection. He asserted that what Corriveau wants is perfectly reasonable and merciful and that existing law against this is stupid.
The third ‘guest’ was a woman identified only by her first name – ‘Ruthi’ – who was described as having four birth children and three step children, three of whom were described as having “special needs.” Ruthi spoke from the audience, rather than on stage like Ms. Corriveau. There were no videos of Ruthi’s children. She was appalled at the idea of killing people with intellectual disabilities, but was given no more than a minute to speak.
Finally, Dr. Phil, you asked for a show of hands from the audience – how many agree that Corriveau should be able to “mercifully” kill her kids? It should be no surprise that an audience who sat through such a one-sided presentation would vote about 90% in favor of Corriveau and her desire to euthanize her two adult children.
Every show is followed online by a feature called “Dr. Phil Uncensored.” The one for the show “Deadly Consequences” features you and your staff expressing surprise over the audience vote and congratulating yourselves that “all the arguments were brought to the table” and that “we got both sides out”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This program was a horrific assault on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By conveying social acceptance and approval of active euthanasia of individuals with disabilities by their family members, the segment threatens their very lives. People with disabilities are reportedly twice as likely to be abused as their nondisabled peers. It is grossly irresponsible that the Dr. Phil Show aired a segment that further promotes any form of violence against a group already subject to discrimination, ridicule and gross devaluation. The idea that people with disabilities are “better off dead” is deeply offensive and cannot be tolerated.
The undersigned call upon you and the Dr. Phil Show to publicly apologize for the “Deadly Consequences” segment and to give equal time to individuals with intellectual disabilities and organizations advocating their equal rights. We also call upon the Dr. Phil Show’s sponsors to become part of the solution by joining us in this demand.
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government
Hearing Loss Association of America
National Association of the Deaf
National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery
National Council on Independent Living
National Disability Rights Network
National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities
Not Dead Yet
The Arc of the United States
State and Local Organizations
Access Center for independent Living (Dayton, OH)
Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
Liberty Resources, Inc.
LIFE Center for Independent Living (Bloomington, IL)
Tennessee Association of Microboards and Cooperatives
The Arc of Illinois