Identifying the Person as the Problem: Euthanasia for Mental Illness

It was a practice that is foreign to most us today: The victim was executed for a crime committed against her. In the case of sexual defilement in which the woman was the victim, the woman was stoned to death in order to keep her uncleanliness out of the tribe. It seems barbaric to our modern-day sensitivities.

But, what if a woman wants to be punished for something done to her? What if she sees herself as too defiled to enter into the community? What if she thinks she should be killed?

Today victims of child sexual crimes and sexual assault are not put in jail or executed for being dirty. The Enlightenment brought with it the idea of autonomy, and with autonomy comes personal responsibility. The just response to sex crimes is to have the perpetrator tried and convicted in a court of law. However, in our modern world, the community’s responsibility toward the victim is a bit hazy. Dealing with the aftermath of sexual crimes, in particular, tends to be private and personal.

The Dutch Euthanasia Commission granted a 29-year-old woman permission to die by physician-assisted suicide. She suffered from post-traumatic stress from childhood sexual abuse that occurred from age 5 to 15. Among her mental health co-morbidities (because people with PTSD tend to express several types of symptoms), she had what was deemed “untreatable” anorexia due to depression and anxiety.

The Psychological Damage of Sex Crimes

In the up-coming issue of Salvo (Issue 37), I wrote the Casualty Report on sex trafficking. In doing the research for this report, one of the key ways that traffickers and pimps maintain control of their victims is by making them feel worthless. By shaming their victims through abusive and degrading tactics, the victim will not only lose her will to fight back, but she will lose hope for a way out. This is how pimps “train their victims.” Once the cycle of shame has begun, the victim will stay in the abusive relationship because she doesn’t believe she deserves better. Even once she is out of the abusive situation, she will often engage in self-harm as a way to cope with her deep-seated sense of worthlessness.

In his book Shame Interrupted Ed Welch says that “any sexual violation brings shame on the victim…it should be bring shame on the perpetrator” (Welch, 14). Shame is something far deeper and more intense than guilt. It is dehumanizing. Welch defines shame as

[Y]ou were disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses. (Welch, 2)

The 29-year-old woman was treated as something less than human for most of her childhood. When she was approved for physician-assisted suicide, she was treated as less than human then, too.

PTSD Is NOT Incurable

In an op-ed for TIME online, Joan Cook, a trauma psychiatrist, says that “No provider anywhere should ever tell a trauma survivor that their condition is incurable.” She points out that treatment can be hard and it can take a long time, but it is not incurable.

In a Huffington Post article by Jenni Schaefer, author and survivor of sexual abuse, she attests that she was not competent to make a rational and informed decision about physician-assisted suicide while in the throes of her mental illness. The feelings of hopelessness, she says, are part of the illness.

In The Netherlands, one of the criteria for approval for physician-assisted suicide is that the patient must be competent to make the decision. How can she be both rational and competent and have an “incurable” mental illness?

Jenni’s mentor and PTSD expert, Dr. Tim Brewton, said that it is the obligation of the therapist to instill hope. He says that from a clinical perspective,

I do not believe in ever giving up on an individual’s potential for recovery. In fact, I think it is the duty of a doctor or therapist to instill hope of improvement, particularly in a young person. One very important lesson that I have learned over the years is that I can never predict who will improve and who will not. I have been proven wrong too many times, and we cannot see the future. It is better to be present in the moment with patients and to do one’s best to help them sit with their discomfort and move forward in all ways possible.

Shame consumes a person until the person is completely gone. Welch points out that the deep logic of anorexia, which the woman suffered from, is that the person feels unworthy and deserves nothing, so she gives herself nothing and perhaps she can just disappear (Welch, 28). This woman felt unworthy of life and the Dutch Euthanasia Commission agreed with her.

Autonomy and Compassion

Sexual crimes violate the person, not only physically, but also mentally. It is the ultimate expression of treating another as an inhuman piece of meat, a means to an end. If the victim survives the attack, she is not free; she is in mental bondage. Her autonomy has been stripped from her. Killing her is not honoring her freedom to choose when and how she will die. It is honoring the perpetrator’s original intent, which is to consume and discard.

Our enlightened and progressive culture has a habit of “solving” the problem by getting rid of the person, whether it is the unborn, the disabled, or the mentally ill. The problem of suffering is solved by eliminating the sufferer. This is sanitized by calling it “compassionate” and justified by invoking autonomy. If Western countries, like The Netherlands, really do value freedom and autonomy, then true freedom means helping the victim out of her mental bondage by showing her the love and dignity that she doesn’t think she deserves.

Note: After writing this post, I came across this column by Clare Allen in The Guardian, (“The label ‘incurable’ is not a justification for ending a life”). In it, she makes several observations about mental illness and euthanasia including a point that should be more obvious than it apparently is: “It seems to me that anyone who has lived through 10 years of sexual abuse may benefit more from being listened to than labelled.”

Girls and Guys, Getting [It] Together; Some Observations on Double Standards

(Surprise, surprise, Intern 2 has a bone to pick with cultural attitudes on sexuality and the sexes)

Recently my friend Barnabas mentioned that another (male) acquaintance of ours had once written a story whose implausible content “revealed his virginity.” The tone was not complimentary.

Due to the setting we were in, I chose not to mention that I too was wrestling with a scene in my own work-in-progress, one key to the characters’ emotional trajectory, that suffered from my lack of firsthand experience. But if I had, I know my friend would have vocally distinguished my situation from our classmate’s. There were other reasons (my actual presence, for one) that my lack of experience could be denoted the more respectable, but I’ve long suspected that chief among them would be the fact that I was a girl.

Say what we will about the pervasively decadent quality of popular and academic culture, but the secular world is still remarkably kind to female virgins. We have our detractors, (Jessica Valenti comes first to my mind), but they are generally not disdainers. It is frequently argued that women are harmed or restricted by abstinence, but not that there’s something innately wrong with a woman who abstains. The prevailing mindset does not suggest that a woman who has not engaged in sexual conduct is any less of a woman for it. (If your evidence or experience says otherwise, by all means post a link/tell us your story, and join the conversation.)

This is not the case for abstinent men, and men and women alike bear the responsibility to face the injustice.

Surely it is a point of agreement for all reasonable people that men’s promiscuity ought not to be excused and even praised while the same behavior is denigrated in women. I do not believe that this, which many feminists hold as the capital-D-S Double Standard (see also; “Stud/Slut Dichotomy”), is nearly so prevalent now as it was many decades ago, but this new double standard that excuses women’s virginity while denigrating men’s (we can call it the “Nice Girl/Nice Guy Dichotomy”) seems to have sprouted from the same root. The difference might have come with the shift of mainstream sexual mores. As pre-marital abstinence, rather than sexual activity, becomes the frowned-upon behavior, so do men, rather than women, become the chiefly frowned-upon participants.

This is not progressive thinking. This merely inverts our old thinking. The new double standard operates from the same false premises as the old. It still presupposes that men are passive victims to their all-consuming sexual desires (so, if a man has not had sex by a certain age, he must be either completely undesirable to women or otherwise suspect in his manliness). It still presupposes that women do not struggle with sexual desire at all, or only to a degree that is easily controlled (so, if a woman has not had sex by a certain age, that is an understandable decision on her part.) Just like the old double standard, this discredits both men’s and women’s capacity for strength in virtue.

It may be easier in this cultural climate for me, as a woman, to openly discuss my moral choices than it is for my male friends and counterparts. But I propose that even so, in such contexts that are appropriate and in such terms that are constructive, we all put these choices into open discussion. We, men and women together, bolstering the required courage, should calmly explain ourselves and defend each other.

Had it come to that, I could have reminded Barnabas, who does know better, that being male or female was not really a relevant factor in the conversation about twenty-something virgins trying to write what they don’t know. He would have listened. So would many others.

As we strive together toward the same fixed and unchanging standards, let us be confident, assured, and transparent* in our striving. Let us strive together so that others may see and understand, and may begin to strive alongside us.

I remain, sincerely yours,
Intern 2

*But tactful, and not obnoxious or boastful. Discretion, valor, better part, etc.

Some Girls, Part 2: What Words Mean

Continuing from Part 1, Intern 2 extrapolates on the consequences of vagueness in rhetoric

It is a little alarming that the following assertion should need to be made. It would be a relief it turned out to be unnecessary. But please bear with me a moment, as I’ll breathe easier knowing these words are out.

Women, like men, are creatures of God, and therefore are possessed of individual souls and unique vocations. Please trust me when I say that women do not function together as a vast hive intelligence. Women are not only not a vast hive intelligence, we are more specifically not a vast hive intelligence that, created for the sole or main purpose of serving the needs of men, was corrupted by the Fall into a vast hive intelligence that functions solely to drive men to sin. (Just like men do not and never have existed as a vast hive intelligence that functions solely to make women miserable, a viewpoint comfortingly less common than its vocal espousers make it appear.)

There is a distinction between what some women do as individuals and what all women do as a sex. There is also a distinction in how to approach the determination of what some individual women do and what women as a sex tend toward.

There is a distinction between making a statement about “some women” or “that woman who” and making a statement about, plainly, “women.”

One is an observation of something that individuals or an individual did or does.

The other is an observation of something that a whole half of the living population of humanity did or does.

Clearly these types of observation are not equivalent.

It is not accurate to state that “Women have been indoctrinated by feminism to think they enjoy working fourteen hours a day,” or “Women are naturally overjoyed to spend the whole of each day in their homes with three toddlers, two of whom are in diapers,” or “Women like to drive trucks” or “Men like to get exfoliation treatments” or “Ladies prefer salad” or “Gentlemen prefer steak.” While in some contexts the statement is clearly a generalization and not actually applicable to an entire sex, the actual meaning doesn’t change and the ambiguity can turn off-putting. And worse than off-putting, when discussing divorce, abortion, or abuse (or, as described in Part 1, false allegations thereof), this vague rhetoric becomes unjustly accusatory.

But put a “some” or a “many” in front of the sentence? Or the number from a reliably obtained statistic? Then it becomes true, if not empirically proven, and we can acknowledge that women, and men, are possessed of unique souls, and that no sin or virtue or struggle or preference can necessarily be attributed across the board.

Our nature as God’s image remains fundamentally the same; the good things we strive toward for joy and salvation are simple, few, and alike; but the details, and the means of striving, are richly varied.

We are given the means to express this in language, in rhetoric. Let’s use language carefully, for the fullness of truth.

(If you see an instance where this blog hasn’t used language carefully for the fullness of truth, please speak up.)

Sincerely yours,

Intern 2