Monday 2 February 2015

Withholding medical care from children – the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn

I have thought for a while about whether I should write an article about the suffering and death of Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Ryan Alcorn. On New Year’s Day, Google news had 2.1 million hits on her name, today it’s 3.0 million hits. A lot of people have written much smarter and much more insightful things than I ever could. I had to wait for a few days anyway, because this tragedy made me too emotional – but from reading Leelah’s suicide note, I think it’s good if as many people as possible speak up.

I just want to add a couple of things.

From Leelah’s suicide note, it appears that her parents

– withheld necessary medical treatment from her and

– discriminated against her and severely psychologically abused her.

There are some facts that are vital to get across to everybody:

  • Transsexualism exists. Transsexual people suffer, and have a very high risk of suicide. Medical treatment and social support can help.

  • Transsexualism is a part of one’s identity. It is part of who we are. This part of the self is nothing that can be changed.

  • If you don’t accept or respect a person for her transsexuality, you are discriminating against her. Shaming and punishing people for their identity is severe abuse.

Some of the cruel effects that often accompany gender dysphoria are low self-esteem or self-hate, social anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so dangerous when friends or family stigmatise, punish and shame someone for her transsexuality. It creates a vicious circle, a negative feedback loop, making things worse.

Based on the above, I agree with Dan Savage (I love him for the advice he gives and his clear-sighted humane moral stance) who thinks that Leelah’s parents should be “charged with child abuse, neglect, reckless endangerment and manslaughter”.

Religion …

According to Leelah, her mother, Carla Wood Alcorn, stated that “god doesn’t make mistakes”. I can’t even get my head around what her mother might have meant by this declaration. I guess all victims of disasters and accidents, like people dying in tsunamis and plane crashes, were meant by god to die this way? Okay, fine, if you believe in a cruel god. But what does that mean when it comes to illness? Does every individual case of illness, every ailment happen with the approval of god? If so, why have medicine, doctors, nurses and hospitals? If you are born with a cleft palate, or if your hearing fails in old age, or if you have cancer, you get medical help. But god doesn’t make mistakes, does he? He clearly wants you to suffer. Well, I won’t expand on this issue here… but if you believe that god doesn’t make mistakes, what do you think about birth defects? Do you deny they exist, or do you really think god is consenting to this suffering? What kind of support are we supposed to or allowed by god to give to suffering people? And who decides?

I don’t understand where religious people get their morality from, how their moral framework functions. It’s so much simpler to base your morality on compassion, empathy and the aim for a better world.

Interacting with children/teenagers …

Just from that suicide note, Leelah Alcorn appears to be an intelligent, insightful, sensitive, rational and self-aware human being. She diagnosed herself, provided that diagnosis to her parents and was looking for help. She is to be commended for her brave, honest and sensible behaviour. I’m not sure parents can ask for more.

So, no smilies today. But let’s try to have a good year, a year in which we try to ‘fix society’ and try to live up to the wishes and hopes that Leelah expressed in her final letter.

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