Friday, November 2, 2007

A Tale of Two Teens

Last night's ER episode had me so upset I could not sleep. Two of the main storylines dealt with suicidal children. One was a young woman who left a suicide note on the ER computer saying she was jumping under a train. A nurse found the note, ran to the station, tackled the girl, and saved her life. She was going to get the help she needed.

The other storyline was about a 13-year-old boy with a progressive neuromuscular condition that required him to be put on a respirator. With his mother outside the room, he told the doctors he didn't want to be on the machine. The doctors lied to the mother, saying the respirator would blow out his lungs; so they could not comply with her wishes to put her son on the respirator.

The nurse, who saved the young woman at the train, fights for the young man, "He can think, he can communicate. Kids make bad decisions when they are 13", she yells.

The boy’s doctor lashed back at her, "Lying in bed... being hooked up to a ventilator... it's not a life. He doesn't want to lay around in bed being hooked to a machine waiting for a miracle... what part of that don't you understand.” It ends with the nurse threatening to report the young doctor. He grabs the phone from her, violently hangs it up and shouts, "I'm the doctor; it's my call." She runs away.

For the rest of the episode, we watch the boy die.

The juxtaposition of these two stories once again beats into the public consciousness, that people with disabilities are better off dead. I suppose the writers thought the 10 seconds of dialogue against his death provided balance for the 50 plus minutes promoting his death.

To fit their world view they forget the fact that people who use respirators don't lay in bed; that are up and active. Even one of their own, actor Christopher Reeve, wrote directed and acted while using his respirator.

I kept hoping that the nurse would bring in someone wiser, perhaps an adult who had used a respirator for years, maybe he would be a doctor, a college professor, or a dad; someone… anyone that could help the young man realize he would have a life… maybe even a great life with or without a respirator. The technology he needed would no more define him than any other technology he used. At the very least, I hoped the writers might have called in a psychologist, to deal with the child’s uninformed views. Nope, none of that. The only person called-in was the chaplain.

The only difference between the two suicidal young people is that one had a disability. It should have been a powerful argument against physician-assisted suicide; however they portrayed the young doctor as the fighter for patient right to die, not a co-conspirator to a young man’s murder.

The problem is that this fictional story is being played out in real life time and again; and it sickened me.

Update: I found additional details about this story and published them in this Back Story on November 5th.

You can see a 2-minute replay, a summary of the episode here:


Carly and Chelsey said...

Hi. My name is Chelsey. I just discovered your blog, because my friend and I are starting a blog about our own issues with disability (

We are hoping to eventually start a webmag of articles, fiction and other things pertaining to youth with disabilities, but for now we're starting out with the blog.



misscripchick said...

this ties in so well with your saturday post; this kind of ableist thinking is so engrained in our culture that people don't even realize it. scariest thing in the world..well not just scary but dangerous. i guess this is where "awareness" can be good (i've been posting/deleting/posting deleting a post on how i hate "awareness".)

Ruth said...

The juxtaposition of these plots sounds pointed- and I too would have hoped that they'd bring in a character to show the youngster he could have a life with or w/o a respirator. How sad that our society so blatantly gives unequal worth to life based on whether technology is needed - we teach the wrong things and it sickens me too.