Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 21, 2010
Euthanasia is community's ultimate act of abandonment, says ethicist
WINNIPEG - Euthanasia and assisted suicide represent the ultimate abandonment of a person by a community, says Dr. George Webster, a Winnipeg-based clinical ethicist.
Honouring and respecting the dying means "to keep company with these people and respond in concrete ways that communicate faithfulness and commitment," Webster said in a June 3 talk.
Dying people need an alternative to euthanasia that involves them in decision-making, he said.
"There has to be a change in the whole culture of health care. Patients must be assured that they will not be abandoned, left to die in isolation or excluded from important choices at the end of life."
Webster gave a presentation on euthanasia and assisted suicide sponsored by Micah House, the Winnipeg Archdiocese's centre for social justice.
"In the past, illness was characterized by rapid onset and a speedy resolution. A person either lived or not. Now death comes from chronic degenerative diseases. The transition to death is much slower and dying comes with choices."
Many supporters of euthanasia have suffered themselves or witnessed the long suffering of family members, he said.
"Loss of control and fear of a painful, protracted dying process are basic questions for us all."
Some proponents of euthanasia say it is justified because it relieves "the indignity" of unrelenting or unbearable pain, Webster said. Others see it as the ultimate expression of autonomy and self-determination.
"It is for many an expression of control; they are in charge of their dying."
A PRIVATE MATTER?
Others, he said, "see it simply as a private matter, believing, 'If my actions do not harm another or compromise another, then I should be free to choose.'"
Webster disagrees: "I say strenuously that death is not a private matter."
Webster said there is a distinction between intending death by assisting a suicide and allowing death by discontinuing treatment at the request of a dying person.
"Allowing death means death comes from the disease. In choosing to allow death a person is saying, 'I no longer have an obligation to battle this disease.'
"But euthanasia requires the action of another. With euthanasia, my actions are an integral part of securing the death of the other."
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