Alzheimer’s and the euthanasia debate

Cross-posted from Bioedge

Negative attitudes towards Alzheimer’s disease are undue influence on the euthanasia debate, claims an Australian bioethicist.

Deakin University Professor Megan-Jane Johnstone has examined the ‘Alzheimerisation’ of the euthanasia debate in a new book, Alzheimer’s disease, media representations and the politics of euthanasia: constructing risk and selling death in an aging society.

“Alzheimer’s has been portrayed as the ‘disease of the century’ that is poised to have a near catastrophic impact on the world’s healthcare system as the population ages,” Professor Johnstone said.

“This representation of the disease—along with other often used terms such as ‘living dead’, a ‘funeral that never ends’ and a ‘fate worse than death’—places Alzheimer’s as a soft target in the euthanasia debate because it plays to people’s fears of developing the disease and what it symbolises. It positions Alzheimer’s as something that requires a remedy; that remedy increasingly being pre-emptive and beneficent euthanasia.”

Professor Johnstone acknowledges that euthanasia is a polarising and emotive issue, however she warns that the public could be unduly swayed by the way the media, and pro-euthanasia groups, to frame the issue as “simply a matter of choice” through the use of highly personalised, individual experiences.

“Euthanasia is far from a simple matter of choice, as choice itself is no simple matter; it is an extremely complex phenomenon. And Alzheimer’s disease cannot be adequately portrayed through highly publicised individual cases.”

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