The attitude of the media towards disabled people this summer has been wildly inconsistent. On the one hand the media covered the Paralympics enthusiastically and are now talking about how this has greatly improved the public's view of disability. Research has shown that stories of people overcoming hardships have a positive effect in reducing suicides.
On the other hand, the media gave overwhelming and emotional coverage to Tony Nicklinson, constantly implying that anyone so disabled would obviously be better off dead. In fact, surveys find that even those with profound disabilities and serious health problems tend to be on average as happy as anyone else, and that the majority are opposed to any change in the law. Many have indeed been infuriated by journalists implying that the lives of people like them are always miserable or second-class or less worthy of protection.
The copycat suicide effect is well understood. The media have been, at the least, very close to breaking the law. Under the Coroners and Justice Act, it is an offence if someone "does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and [the] act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide…….whether or not a suicide, or an attempt at suicide, occurs." General encouragement is clearly enough, since "The person …need not be a specific person (or class of persons) ". Surely such encouragement includes the frequent implication that suicide is the solution to the presumed or temporary unhappiness of those with a certain disability or health problem.
Media coverage has also been inadequate in the stories which were not told. Some of the athletes in the Paralympics may have been very depressed – even suicidal – when they were first injured or diagnosed. Some may have been at risk from abortion. Others may have been always determined to overcome difficulties, or may been born to parents for whom abortion was never an option – or born in countries where abortion for disabled babies is still thankfully not allowed.
We can all see that the paralympians feel that their lives are worthwhile. For a short time the media agree with them – apparently not seeing the contradiction involved in our law allowing the death penalty for the unborn who do not measure up to a bogus standard of perfection, whether physically or just in terms of being ‘wanted’.
How many babies were aborted in Britain this summer for a suspected disability during the very games supposed to celebrate the achievements of disabled people?