Friday, January 28, 2005

Spring and Assisted Suicide

It seems as if the first signs of Spring have arrived. No, not the first swallow (it would die of cold); not the first crocus (not yet anyway, even in B.C.). I refer, of course, to the first public event entitled “Should there be Assisted-Suicide in Canada?”

This time it is Sheila Rogers of the infectious laugh from CBC who is hosting a debate on this perennial question.

For many years now, those ever hopeful folks whose hopes for assisted-suicide in Canada crashed and burned with the failure of the Rodriguez case in the early 1990’s, re-emerge every year and like the first signs of Spring, or like some demented ground hog, look to see if there is a shadow of hope for what should be, if you’ll excuse the phrase in this context, their moribund movement.

Alas, the movement for euthanasia and assisted-suicide is not exactly moribund but keeps appearing like a one-track zombie with its arms stretched out ahead of it wading onto radio and television just when you thought you had seen it for the last time. It is on its last legs all the time but seems bravely to continue on despite defeats in virtually every civilized country (one ignores the Netherlands here since that country has lost its bearings on so many fronts that one cannot really treat it as an equal in national sanity - -and Belgium seems to have been infected by its close proximity to the “low country.”).

Even that former Federal M.P. and unofficial “Lord of the Ring” Svend Robinson has dusted off his briefcase and will be part of this discussion. Oh boy. Sometimes one is very, very glad to be well beyond the airwaves of particular parts of Canada.

While on this topic, I note that today in Ottawa the local radio station has been carrying a sad news item. Apparently a 78-year-old man with a serious lung disease has decided that he will kill himself this evening. He will have dinner with family and friends at a local restaurant and then go home, put on his favourite cardigan and put a balloon over his head and gas himself.

The family has, apparently, hired a leading Criminal lawyer to ensure that its presence at this macabre spectacle doesn’t lead to them being charged with anything. Since when has stupidity been actionable?

The local radio station has hosted a poll with this question: “Should the 78 year old man be able to take his own life or should he be prevented from doing so?”

This is just the sort of ridiculous question that local radio stations love to ask. In this circumstance, however, it is really a slippery and dangerous question for this reason. Nobody suggests that suicide should again be, as it once was, a crime. No one has suggested that the old man is out of his mind and should be “sectioned” (as the phrase used to go) and stopped from a foolish action “for his own good.” If they did then presumably his family would be there to ensure that there were no bags around for him to put over his head etc.

Assuming he is sane and in full possession of his faculties, there is no basis to “prevent him.” The vote, when I last checked, was 60% of those on the website voting “against” his “right” to take his own life - - what would they propose - - that the police wheel in and take the bag off his head? What a vision that is; the police cruising around looking to see if people look depressed or have recently purchased copies of one of those pathetic books that give recipes for how to take your own life.

The better question would have been: “Should a terminally ill person be permitted to have another person kill him?” That raises the real question that keeps popping up in Canada not the one the local radio station asked.

The answer to this question, as a matter of fact is “no.” Here’s why. There are no safeguards that work in relation to “assisted-suicide” and the Dutch situation has amply shown that so-called voluntary euthanasia is wide open to abuse and “terminally ill” soon becomes “depressed” or “anorexic” (to give two examples of well known cases where people were able to be killed under the so-called Dutch safeguards). In addition, the weak (the sick, the terminally ill, the old, the handicapped) are threatened by practices that have come to “medicalize” the act of killing.

The whole area of “euthanasia” is full of lies, frauds and charlatans like Dr. Kevorkian who, you will recall, was able to function killing off people who were not, for example, “terminally ill.” The law, fortunately, eventually caught up with Dr. Death and he is now cooling his heels in an American prison. It took a long, long time to get him behind bars, however and that ought to function as a cautionary tale.

In any case, this issue is one that continues to use the same dishonest arguments and silly sorts of questions to soften up an already softened populace so that we will, perhaps, one day embrace “assisted-suicide.” It was once called “physician assisted suicide” just as we came to call abortion “therapeutic abortion” thinking that if we made it sound medical it would be alright.

Well it isn’t and the corruption of medical ethics is not a good thing and the sad case of the old man with the lung disease is no argument for anything but sadness that he has nothing to live for any longer or that he was not introduced to a good hospice program with counsellors who could have given him and his family proper assistance.

We do not own ourselves such that we can choose the time of our death and a society that drops its richest sense of “non-self ownership”, as ours is busy doing, is on the long road to self-destruction of another, much more widespread, sort.

Iain Benson ©