January 2's episode of Law & Order was about assisted suicide. As a person suffering from ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, I really took affront at the writers' and producers' presentation of the disease. For those of you who did not see the episode, the unit was trying to identify the person who was helping terminally ill patients commit suicide. One of the men was suffering from ALS. You would probably imagine that I'm going to rant about assisted suicide, but that's not the case. The writers had one of the characters actually say, "I understand why he did it. If I had to go through such a horrible disease, I would do it too."
My concern is twofold. First, it shows the writers' lack of understanding of the disease. This happens quite often on television shows where the writers don't do their homework. Secondly, I'm very concerned about the message being sent to the future ALS patients who have not yet been diagnosed. The episode presents the option of assisted suicide or even suicide. I suspect that most shows of this type are reviewed by the networks' lawyers. It's my opinion that they have a moral obligation and responsibility as well as a legal one.
This piqued my anger. The following week, I watched an episode about a geneticist who was trying to identify the gay gene prenatally. This raised the question of whether or not homophobic parents would terminate a pregnancy because of the possibility that their child might be gay.
Where the hell are the morals and values of the people responsible for letting this type of misinformation go out to the general public? The Evangelical practitioners must be having a field day with this. I'm part of a ALS center community in my area. In the support groups, it's the psychological part of the disease that everybody talks about. The symptoms and the slow loss of bodily functions are indeed tragic, but the one thing that makes the disease unique is that the brain and the mind continue to function, so for a character on a national network show to even imply that suicide might be beneficial is irresponsible.
There comes a point in the treatment process for each of us when the medical community begins to worry more about keeping us comfortable than actually treating the disease. So each patient has access to pharmaceuticals that could easily end our lives. I just hope that the episode of Law and Order is not or does not become the reason an ALS patient makes this decision.
If this indeed becomes the case, I hope you're ready to shoulder the responsibility.