Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 2004
To reject life is to reject God
Physician-assisted suicide rides on the 'quality of life' ethic
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Physician-assisted suicide is back in the news. Canada's Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, stoked the embers of that old fiery debate recently. He suggested that times have changed in the decade since Parliament last looked at the issue.
What's changed? Well, seven years ago, the federal Liberal Party adopted a party policy favouring assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The secular media portrayed Robert Latimer as some sort of folk-hero in the wake of murdering his disabled daughter. To do this, the media had to willfully ignore court testimony suggesting the opposite. That's exactly what they did.
Value of human life
When Cotler commented that times have changed, I think he was referring to a general coarsening of attitudes toward the value of human life. In certain influential circles, the sanctity of human life ethic has been replaced by a quality of life ethic.
Many people believe there is such a thing as a life not worth living: the lives of the disabled, the chronically and terminally ill and the aged. If Irwin Cotler is right and times have changed, we must ask a question: Have times progressed or regressed?
The justice minister said he decided it is time to go back to the drawing board after recent high-profile assisted suicides in Quebec and British Columbia. Neither case involved a terminal illness.
Monique Charest of B.C. died in January 2002 in the presence of Evelyn Martens, who was active with the Right to Die Society of Canada. Charest's physician stated none of her medical conditions were terminal. A friend of Charest's testified that she claimed to have had a vision of her dead parents and wanted to go to be with them. She didn't need suicide, she needed professional help.
Charles Fariala (36) of Montreal was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS). Multiple sclerosis is rarely terminal. In the last months of his life, Fariala was depressed and became increasingly isolated. He allegedly committed suicide with the help of his mother, Marielle Houle.
Recently a documentary called Manon aired in Quebec. It chronicled the events leading to the assisted suicide of disabled Manon Brunelle (45). She suffered from multiple sclerosis and lived in a nursing home. She went to Zurich Switzerland, to be euthanized in a private clinic. Brunelle was spitting mad at life and allowed cameras to record her last moments in hopes it might help legalize euthanasia. As someone who is also entering an advanced stage of MS, I can only hope her quest fails.
Notice that none of these cases were terminal. Advocates of physician-assisted suicide usually couch their proposal to be intended for terminally ill people with a limited medical prognosis - often identified as six-months to live. The problem is that doctors are notoriously wrong with predictions of life expectancy.
Proponents of assisted suicide always begin by referring to it as an option intended exclusively for the terminally ill. They talk about tight, narrow euthanasia guidelines.
But guidelines will always be challenged then flouted then eventually discarded. It happened with abortion in Canada. It happened with euthanasia in Holland, it happened with the euthanasia program in Nazi Germany. Why would we think it would be any different now in Canada with euthanasia?
Physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill will eventually be extended to the incurably ill, then the chronically ill, the disabled, mentally ill and depressed people. I have even encountered people who envision a golden age of assisted suicide available to everyone on demand.
Catholic essayist and author G.K. Chesterton wrote this about suicide in his monumental book Orthodoxy, (1908):
"Mr. William Archer even suggested that in the golden age, there would be penny-in-the-slot machines, by which a man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane.
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world."
Blunt? Yes. True? I'm afraid so.
If I ask others to participate in that rejection, then I ask them to compromise their humanity. Even in my advanced multiple sclerosis, I have no right to ask that from anyone or society. Assisted suicide kills three things: human life, sanctity of life and human conscience. To reject life - even life compromised by disease or disability - is to reject God (the giver of life) and his sovereignty. I know the terror and despair Charles Fariala and Manon Brunelle experienced.
My own life has been terribly compromised by the same slow, relentless disease. But I have also met Christ in the white-hot fire of affliction.
"The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world."
- G.K. Chesterton
Resist the culture of death
Christians are called to bear witness to a culture of life and hope under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We are called to resist a culture of death that has taken root and spreads around us.
Jesus called his followers to be salt and light in society (Matthew 5:13-16). In days before refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative. Christ's followers are to act like a preservative to impede the spread of evil in society. The light of Christ - which is the light of the world - should shine through us and bring others to him.
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