After seeing a preview of ‘Assisted Suicide – The Musical’ on Saturday, I started writing about it, and then two things happened: The media reported enthusiastically about the ‘inspiring’ choice of Jerika Bolen, a disabled 14-year-old, to commit assisted suicide, her only wish being to be prom queen before she ends her life.
The way the media frames the suicidal thoughts of this child as an inspirational choice is terrifying, especially as other ways Bolen could be supported are not even being considered.
Talking about the coverage on Bolen, Lawrence Carter-Long, an expert on disability in the media, commented: ‘When the fetishization of death and disability shines a glittery veneer on the scary underbelly of inspiration porn suicide becomes a spectacle and the best response we can come up with is to roll over and fan the collective fantasy of “individual choice” by throwing a f’n party. Angry, enraged but mostly heartbroken.’
Then, a few hours later, the media reported that 19 disabled people were killed and many more hurt in a horrible knife attack in Sagamihara, Japan. “I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanised, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities,” stated the killer publicly a few months before he committed this atrocious act.
The media response to the incident is underwhelming. The crime is not framed in the wider context of hate crime against disabled people, the history of eugenics against disabled people, nor has the media pointed out how disabled lives are vulnerable lives exactly because to some, like this killer, they are not seen as worth living.
These two occurrences show once more how disabled lives are valued differently than non-disabled ones and that the discussion around euthanasia is a complex and urgent one that also touches upon other issues like support (or lack thereof), dependence and eugenics.
All of this made it difficult for me to write about my experience seeing this piece. I could not find the right words anymore, and I’m still shaken by these events to the core. Considering what the disabled community faces at the moment, it seems counterintuitive to engage in the discussion about assisted suicide in front of a backdrop of glitter and show tunes, perhaps even inappropriate, but at the very least unusual. And yet, ‘Assisted Suicide – The Musical’ manages to do exactly that, giving an insight into the topic that is vitally needed, while also providing spectacular entertainment. The piece is unapologetically political, linking the discussion around assisted suicide to neoliberalism and our current political climate.
The show is full of Liz’s typical dark sense of humour and I laughed a lot, even if, I admit it, at times it was an uneasy laugh. That might be partly to do with the fact that I’m from Switzerland, which you could probably call the heartland of euthanasia. But ‘Assisted Suicide – The Musical’ is also a show that does not let its audience off lightly and asks hard questions, despite the show tunes, humour and sequins.
Liz Carr herself explains her bold choice of creating a musical around this very controversial and serious topic by saying that ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’ – and on that note it needs to be mentioned that the cast is extremely talented, the tunes are amazingly catchy (I still have a song stuck in my head) and the glitter is extra sparkly. In other words, ‘Assisted Suicide – The Musical’ delivers when it comes to the sugar AND the medicine.
A spectacular feat of balance – go and see for yourself!