Author: Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
Reprinted with permission.
Claire Freeman was encouraged by the suicide outreach clinic to consider assisted suicide.
An article published by Brinkwire news tells the story of Claire Freeman (41), a New Zealand woman who was paralysed at the age of 17 after being injured in a car accident. Freeman explains that at one point in her life she became suicidal and was encouraged by the suicide prevention clinic to consider assisted suicide.
New Zealand’s parliament passed a euthanasia bill in November 2019 by a vote of 69 to 51. In order to obtain the necessary votes to pass the bill the government agreed to a referendum on the bill. The story of Claire Freeman is particularly important since euthanasia referendum is on September 19, during the New Zealand election.
The Brinkwire article tells her story:
In November 1995, aspiring model and PhD student Claire Freeman, now 41, and her sister were being driven by their mother Barbara to Auckland from Whangeri on New Zealand’s North Island.
During the two-hour drive Barbara fell asleep at the wheel and the car veered off the road before rolling down a cliff.
Claire was 17 at the time and sustained a severe spinal cord injury, having to be airlifted to Auckland Base Hospital where she was put into an induced coma for two weeks.
For a year she was in and out of hospital where doctors told the family she had just a ten per cent chance of surviving.
Freeman not only survived but returned to an active life even though she struggled with depression.
While she was studying design in Christchurch an earthquake hit in both 2010 and 2011 which triggered post-traumatic stress disorder from her accident.
The trauma was so bad she attempted suicide six times within five years, each time falling into a coma.
She was then told to look into assisted suicide overseas.
‘I was encouraged by the suicide outreach clinic to “look into assisted suicide overseas” as the psychiatrist said he “wouldn’t want to live with my disability”,’ Claire said.
Claire suffered from depression for 15 years and said she often felt disconnected from the outside world and started an Instagram account so she could talk to people.
Claire explains that even though surgery on her neck failed, she achieved success.
‘Five years ago, after another neck surgery (this one went terribly wrong) I lost my job as a designer and started my PhD.’
Claire quickly built a following on Instagram and finally felt like she had a sense of purpose.
In February 2018 she was approached by Italian modelling agency Iulia Barton which kick-started her career as a catwalk model.
She has since been on the catwalk in Milan for fashion week.
‘The irony of being there didn’t escape me as for so many years, I had hid from people, ashamed of using a wheelchair, yet now, I call myself a survivor and I only feel pride in who I am and where I’ve been,’ she said.
‘My wheelchair is a part of me, I am a cyborg and embrace life.
‘My body doesn’t end at my flesh, I consider my wheelchair a part of who I am, much like an amputee feels like their prosthesis is a part of their body.
‘The fact I model is somewhat ironic but it’s fun and I feel it’s important for people to see disabled models like myself out there loving life.’
Claire is happy to be alive. Despite spending 15 years hating her life, at 41 Claire now believes she has lived a ‘spectacular life’.
‘I have lived the most spectacular life in many respects. It has had its dark moments, but they have taught me so much,’ she said.
‘I feel I am a better person having had this injury. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not, but it is rewarding and through studying, I have realised how much work needs to be done regarding society’s perceptions of those with disabilities.’
If Claire had gone to Switzerland to die by assisted suicide, she would not have recovered to experience fulfilment and success. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not the answer.
Header image: via alexschandenberg.blogspot.com