Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 29, 2004
Dr. Death wooes our society
It should come as little surprise that federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is calling for a new national debate on assisted suicide. We had the debate 10 years ago and the Senate recommended that assisted suicide should remain illegal.
Why have the debate again? Times have changed, says Cotler.
Well, it's true, times have changed. But does that mean that assisted suicide has suddenly become morally acceptable after millennia of being considered immoral?
What has changed is the climate of society. Today, most Canadians believe a person should have "the right to die" rather than endure a terminal illness. Two recent court cases have kept the issue on the front burner.
In one case, British Columbia right-to-die advocate Evelyn Martens was acquitted earlier this month of helping two women commit suicide. In the other, Charles Fariala, a Montrealer suffering from multiple sclerosis, committed suicide, allegedly with the help of his mother, Marielle Houle. He was depressed, not terminally ill.
How else have the times changed? Retired Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux Dube wrote an article in a Quebec City newspaper calling for loosening the law against assisted suicide.
None of this makes what was wrong yesterday, right today. What it does show is that the culture of death is gaining a stronger hand over Canadian society.
In 1995, the year the Senate committee recommended that assisted suicide remain illegal, Pope John Paul issued his encyclical The Gospel of Life. The encyclical remains required reading for anyone concerned about the direction of society. In it, the pope described the current situation as "a war of the powerful against the weak."
This is true not only of life issues, such as abortion and euthanasia, but of numerous issues facing global society today. These issues represent the tragic drama of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
What makes the life issues somewhat unique is their relationship with the cult of efficiency. Efficiency is an important value, but when it is distorted into the only value, those whose lives are a net drain on the gross domestic product become expendable. Few people would argue so crassly, but that is nevertheless the unstated goal of what Pope John Paul calls "the conspiracy against life."
The purveyors of the culture of death would not argue that the crippled, the mentally deficient and the terminally ill should be killed. But they will move us in that direction by making "freedom of choice" the sole basis for determining public morality. People who are suffering terribly as they die, we are told, should be allowed to choose to put an end to their lives by committing suicide - assisted suicide, if they are unable to kill themselves.
However, the example of the Netherlands shows that it does not stop there. Studies of the assisted suicide laws there found that 31 per cent of those who were killed through physician assisted suicide in 1990 did not give their explicit consent to be killed. In 1995, the figure was 22.5 per cent. Doctors in the Netherlands have extended the practice of euthanasia to include comatose patients, handicapped infants and healthy but depressed adults.
This may not be where Cotler wants to take Canada. But it is the direction Canada will surely go if his new debate leads to the legalization of assisted suicide.
What Canada does need is more palliative care, more effective use of painkilling drugs and more real compassion for those suffering painful diseases. Compassion does not mean killing the patient; it means others sharing the life and pain of the person in need. That may not be the most economically efficient path, but it is the path that respects the dignity of those who are suffering.
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