Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 24, 2005
Beware the push for euthanasia
Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde's bill to legalize assisted suicide in Canada is receiving scant attention from the national media. It is, after all, a private member's bill, a form of legislation which is rarely passed by the House of Commons.
However, it was only two years ago that then-MP Svend Robinson succeeded in having Parliament pass a bill which expanded the list of identifiable groups to which the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code apply to include sexual orientation. No one gave Robinson's bill much hope until it caught a wave and was swept comfortably to shore.
The House of Commons discussed assisted suicide nearly 10 years and overwhelmingly defeated a bill that would have legalized it. However, Parliament has been notable for its inconsistency on basic moral issues. Members in 1999 overwhelmingly committed themselves to a definition of marriage as exclusively involving one man and one woman. Earlier this year, we saw the worth of that commitment when Parliament legalized same-sex marriage.
But if major media are ignoring Lalonde's bill, groups such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops are not. The CCCB has called for the legal system to "be inspired by a culture of life in which each person feels responsible for the well-being of others until their natural death."
The new enthusiasm for assisted suicide needs to be seen in the context of rising health care costs. Few proponents of so-called death with dignity would say this, but killing critically ill patients has to be seen as an inexpensive way of opening up hospital beds. It is certainly cheaper than building new hospitals.
Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life spoke of the "excessive preoccupation" with efficiency dominating thinking in developed nations. That preoccupation sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable (n. 64). In other words, roll them in, get them to sign a consent form, kill them off, roll them out.
Efficient, yes; compassionate, no. The proponents of euthanasia will say that compassion is their true goal. Why let people suffer needlessly if killing them can end that suffering? Isn't that compassion?
Again, the pope responds: "True compassion leads to sharing another person's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear" (n. 66).
Or, in the words of WCR columnist Mark Pickup, "Dignity is not injected into somebody's bloodstream when they are at their lowest point."
These comments point to a serious societal shortcoming. We too often see people as things to be manipulated or as problems to be solved, rather than as mysteries to be encountered. Technical and legal remedies are too often our responses to situations which actually most need a human face.
One human response to dying is palliative care. Palliative care gives people the opportunity to die without excessive attempts to keep them alive and with appropriate social, emotional and spiritual supports.
For the bean counters, palliative care with appropriate pain relief would also mean lower health care costs. If the Edmonton model of palliative care were followed across Canada, 1,500 acute care beds would be freed for other patients.
Too much medical treatment aims to resuscitate at all costs - to prevent death from taking its natural course. That has lead to a reaction that is the polar opposite - to end pain and suffering by taking the patient's life.
But we do not need to choose between extremes. We need to make choices that value human life, this human life that is dying before us. Forget assisted suicide. That value of life is embodied in the hand wiping the brow of the dying person, the face looking into her eyes and the lips praying the words she can no longer pray.
- Glen Argan
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