On a Personal Note: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and AbortionThese issues affect your life whether or not you realize it just yet.
Let’s be frank, Canadian law and policy on euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion expresses a national concept of life and its value. It sets out when a life begins, ends, when it can be taken and by whom.
On a personal note, the issues of the sanctity and the dignity of human life are very close to my heart. I have recently had to face the frailty of my own life and those of loved ones.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and I spent 16 months in and out of hospitals, undergoing numerous biopsies, surgeries and radiation. That was followed by a then-unidentified illness which left me bedridden for days on end, from which I have not yet fully recovered. My mother revealed to me last year that during her pregnancy, her physician had recommended I be aborted because there was a risk that I would be born disabled. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the anniversary of my being cancer-free for five years, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma.
These experiences have ensured that I cannot consider the practices of abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide as abstract or distant, affecting someone else’s life. They have affected my own. And the truth is they affect yours – whether or not you realize it just yet.
Last month, Françine Lalonde (MP, Bloc Quebecois) introduced Bill C-384, which seeks to decriminalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. This is the third time she has introduced a bill of this nature. Her argument for advancing the bill is that it is a practice of “ultimate compassion.” In short, Lalonde suggests a dignified response to suffering is mercy killing.
Who, it might be asked, can argue with giving a lucid, clear-minded individual the right to end his or her life when they feel it is no longer worth living?
I can, for several reasons.
There were days in the last few years, when I laid in bed and it seemed like I was incapable of doing anything. There were times I felt helpless and wasted. Dependent on friends and family to meet my needs, I felt the burden of my parents, who agonized over me and for me. With the encouragement of loved ones, thankfully, I couldn’t remain hopeless for long.
If this bill had been passed on the first attempt, and I had become desperately hopeless, as a Canadian over the age of 18, I might have gone to the hospital and requested that a physician end my life. I would have had to wait a few days between the first request and the injection – I am assuming that my life would have ended by means of an injection as Bill C-384 doesn’t even specify the means by which a physician can terminate a life – and I would have had to sign some legal documents, but that would have been it. A bout of depression during a season of suffering, and I could have ended it all with the assistance of one sworn to protect life.
If the bill is passed in its current form, there are those who will do just that. Vulnerable individuals will end their lives before realizing what would be missing from their future, the lives of others and their contribution to society. They might end their lives before experiencing their place and purpose in the world and before someone reassures them they are neither a burden nor a drain on the medical system. Those who would seek this legislated assistance in killing themselves are perhaps Canada’s most vulnerable who feel real or imagined pressure from loved ones and the health care system. Our population is rapidly aging and our health care facilities are already feeling the strain. Once we, as a society, determine to address suffering and pain with “mercy killing” we will drift farther from valuing life to the establishment of a culture of death. The experience of other nations has shown that more deaths than intended by such a law will start to occur.
Consider the Netherlands, where the original criteria for euthanasia echoed those of Bill C-384; only terminally ill, suffering, competent adults who repeatedly requested and consented to death could seek voluntary euthanasia. Over 30 years later, none of those requirements remain. Increased occurrences of “involuntary suicide” – there’s an oxymoron, involuntary suicide – have been and continue to be recorded. Individuals have been killed in hospitals without their input. The laws and official guidelines of the nation have been watered down and modified by judicial interpretation to the point where no physical suffering or even illness need be demonstrated.
What then is the “ultimately compassionate” and dignified response to physical and mental suffering? Expert opinion and recent studies identify that a sense of loss of dignity and hopelessness is closely associated “with feelings of being a burden to others and not feeling worthy of respect or esteem.” It has been demonstrated that dignity therapy, where patients are asked to articulate the issues that matter to them, or describe how they would want to be remembered, has increased a sense of dignity in over 75% of study participants. This research confirms that compassionate response to suffering includes affirmation and quality care, not “thoughtful termination.”
The passing of a law such as that proposed in C-384 would reflect that rather than focusing on increasing the quality of medical and palliative care, our society has given up on the living and chosen to turn to euthanasia or assisted suicide as a means to respond to pain and suffering. When life in general is devalued, the life of every vulnerable individual in Canada will be threatened.
Should I be forced to revisit my sickly past, either from illness or old age, I don’t want to risk being in a society that would choose to respond to my need with premature death as its solution. My Canada will offer optimal health and palliative care services as a society that assures me of my value even though I may not be perfect.
Faye Sonier is Legal Counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.