Recently there was an article about two 45-year-old Belgian deaf twins who found out that they were going blind. As a result, they both decided to end their lives by medically assisted suicide. Fortunately for them, they lived in Belgium, a country where euthanasia is legal. They said goodbye to their family and went into that eternal slumber that we all eventually face.
I couldn’t help but feel profoundly sad for these two men. One reason is that I just don’t think the life of a deaf and blind person is worthless. Also because I don’t believe that people who are depressed should be allowed to end their lives. Psychiatrists can help both with therapy and medications, if necessary.
The main reason I feel sad for these men is that I saw the movie, The Miracle Worker, about Helen Keller. She is famous worldwide as a woman who was both deaf and blind who became an author, public speaker and political activist, traveling around the world. If Helen Keller can make a life worth living, why couldn’t these two men?
I find it hard to believe that with all of the medical advances out there, they couldn’t come up with a solution to help their deafness or prevent them from going blind.
I recently saw a movie about cochlear implants. These devices have allowed children who were born deaf to hear and be part of the hearing world. However, in this movie, they did say that these implants aren’t as successful in adults. The cochlear implant allows them to hear but they don’t necessarily understand what they’re hearing so they still rely on lip-reading. Because children’s brains are still developing, they are more likely to learn to understand and communicate like a hearing person.
Let’s just assume that these men looked into all the medical possibilities of improving their eyesight and hearing, and there were none. What options are left for them as deaf and blind people?
The problem with cochlear implants and solutions for the deaf is that they assume you can see. After all, the deaf world is full of people who can see. Likewise, the blind community is full of people who can hear. A person who is both deaf and blind would have one foot straddling both communities. Yet they would not really be a full member of either world.
I started to think about all the difficulties of someone who can neither see nor hear. Then I thought who am I to judge these men on their decision? After all, I am speaking from a position of privilege. I can see, although not as well as I used to be able to. I can hear, albeit with some hearing loss.
What kind of life would someone deaf and blind live? What would a day in their life be like? When I think about all the things I do on a daily basis that a deaf and blind person would not be able to do, I realize why the twins felt so hopeless. But if Helen Keller read, wrote, graduated from Radcliffe College, and made her life worth living, why couldn’t they?
What would I do on a daily basis if I were in their shoes. These men would not be able to work. They could not be self-sufficient and would probably be institutionalized or at the very least require a helper with them all or most of the time. Their only chance of having any activity in their life would be if they learn Braille so that they could read.
I know that being deaf and blind makes communication with the rest of the world difficult, but if you can read and write, there are ways of staying in touch with other people. I have no doubt that people would want to read their opinions and even read a book that they wrote about their life experiences and difficulties. After all, when you think of difficulties they face, you realize how minor your own problems are.
I do not think badly of these men for giving up on life, but I do believe they had other choices. They could have been examples of two men who triumphed over two of the biggest disadvantages in life. In the end, I am sad about the inspiration these men could have been to many people around the world if they had chosen to continue living. After all, I believe one of our biggest purposes in life is to inspire others. As long as you have the ability to think, speak and write, you can do this. It’s important for everyone to remember that.