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Good Samaritans Help, They Do Not Kill

by | Jun 29, 2024

By Meghan Schrader

Editor’s note. This appeared at Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Meghan is an autistic person who is an instructor at E4 – University of Texas (Austin) and an EPC-USA board member.

In the last year I’ve read several articles in publications, that reliably oppose assisted suicide and noticed that some politicians who tend to oppose assisted suicide– asserted that Daniel Penny, a man who is charged with killing mentally ill BIPOC disabled men Jordan Neely when he was having a mental health crisis on the New York subway in 2023—was a “Good Samaritan.”

The case hasn’t been in the news as often lately and Penny will not stand trial for manslaughter until October, but I’ve been thinking about that tragedy a lot, and I figure now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on why Daniel Penny is not a Good Samaritan.

When I say I’ve observed news outlets and politicians that tend to oppose assisted suicide calling Penny a Good Samaritan, I do not mean that all publications or politicians that take a position opposing assisted suicide or that most opponents of assisted suicide take that view, nor do I mean that publications that have published pro-assisted suicide material haven’t also expressed ableist attitudes toward Neely, or towards disabled people in general.

Nevertheless, I feel the need to respond in particular to assisted suicide opponents who have called Neely a “Good Samaritan.” Although this is a blog about assisted suicide, I am a disability justice advocate first and foremost, and I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my life, so describing Daniel Penny’s actions as the actions of a “Good Samaritan” really bother me. I appreciate Alex Schadenberg allowing me to use this blog to get these thoughts “off my chest,” and I hope that they will be instructive for people reading the blog.

During my first bout of psychotic depression in 2016, I had to fly with my Mom to my biological mother’s funeral. During the flight I babbled that I was a rapist and a murderer. I screamed that I wanted to die, that the plane was going to crash and that it was all my fault. My limbs thrashed and jerked with involuntary muscle movements I couldn’t control-sort of like how Jordan Neely screamed that he was hungry and thirsty, threw his jacket on the ground, and allegedly yelled things like, “I’m going to kill you,” “I’m prepared to go to jail for life,” and “I’m willing to die.”

I am sure that my behaviour really sucked for the people sitting around me. But does that mean it would have been OK for a testosterone-flooded United States Marine to jump up from the seat behind me and put me in a choke hold until I died? Would that have made the Marine a Good Samaritan?

That’s essentially the argument that I’ve heard some people make about Jordan Neely’s death: Daniel Penny was a “Good Samaritan” for killing “dangerous” Jordan Neely during a mental health crisis. And that argument is fallacious. Good Samaritans do not restrain severely mentally ill, hungry, disoriented people by putting them in choke holds until they suffocate. Good Samaritans do not live their lives feeling entitled not to encounter mentally ill people in public places, as some of the bystanders’ behaviour and statements about “fearing for my safety” indicate to me they thought they were.

Jordan Neely’s death fits into a longstanding pattern of BIPOC disabled people, and disabled people in general, being killed by the police or bystanders. For instance, Neely’s death reminds me of the case of Ethan Saylor, a 28-year-old man with Down Syndrome who was killed by off-duty police officers in 2013 because he tried to stay for a second showing of a film he had watched without buying a second ticket. The off-duty officers asphyxiated Saylor, all for the sake of an $8 movie ticket. And, although a medical examiner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide, the officers were not charged.

People calling Daniel Penny a “Good Samaritan” want the same thing to happen in Jordan Neely’s case, apparently because that’s what fits into their preferred political narrative. But most political narratives do not account for the needs and experiences of disabled people, and that’s what’s going on when people call Daniel Penny a “Good Samaritan.”

Jordan Neely needed a Good Samaritan who would speak to him compassionately and “talk him down.” Jordan Neely needed a Good Samaritan to call his family. Jordan Neely needed a Good Samaritan who would have given him something to eat and drink. Jordan Neely needed a Good Samaritan who could have summoned medical help. That’s the Good Samaritan that Neely needed and deserved, and that’s the kind of person our leaders should rally behind as a “Good Samaritan,” not smug Ironmen like Daniel Penny.

Disabled people not only deserve the right to live in a society where their suicides will be treated like preventable tragedies, but also the right to ride the subway without the fear of being suffocated. Opposition to assisted suicide needs to involve a commitment not only to equal access to suicide prevention, but access to safe environments in general. It means advocating for disability justice more broadly. It means following the real Good Samaritan’s example of tending to a wounded man beat up by robbers, not Daniel Penny’s example of killing a mentally ill man who was hungry and thirsty.

So, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition blog readers, get out there and be real Good Samaritans. Do whatever you can to ensure the well-being of the Jordan Neelys of the world, and couple with that with your opposition to assisted suicide.

That’s the kind of Good Samaritan that the disabled community needs and is consistent with opposing assisted suicide.

Categories: Assisted Suicide