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February 23, 2015

However did we reach this point in Canada where the Supreme Court would legalize assisted suicide with the overwhelming support of the people? The answer is not easy to discern, but it behooves us to try. By discovering how we got lost, we may begin to find a way home.

The most obvious causes of our plight are the idolatry of individual freedom in isolation from the common good and the erosion of respect for human life.

That the individual ought to control his or her life is now an axiom of Canadian society. That belief is ideological, but it is an ideology rooted in the prosperity the Western world has enjoyed for several decades. The freedom of consumerism and the material comforts that accompany it tell us we should be able to have what we want when we want it.

Moreover, we seek to escape any consequences of our actions that might be inconvenient - sexual activity should be enjoyed without the "burden" of children; marriage is indissoluble unless something else turns up.

Legal abortion and the production of "test tube babies" teach that life is commodity, that its value is relative. When nothing has a value beyond measure, it becomes easier over time to reduce the relative value of that which ought never to be violated.

There is more. Many draw attention to the lack of palliative care which would prevent dying people from suffering needlessly. If people could die without pain in a peaceful setting surrounded by loved ones, perhaps that would relieve some of the pressure for assisted suicide.

Many steps, however, occur before the approach of death. Medical technology and improved drugs have lengthened our lifespans. Yet society has not learned when to stop using technology and medication in order to let death takes its natural course.

The decline of the extended family has left many people to spend the last years of their lives mostly alone, perhaps receiving good nursing home care, but absent those people who have added colour, texture and love to their lives.

How many would want to spend the last say, three years of their lives sick, lonely and unable to do the things that made life of great interest? Each day would drag on interminably; years would seem like centuries. The prospect of years of isolation and loneliness is surely one reason why some see death as the desired alternative.

Most of these causes of increased support for assisted suicide testify to a society that has grown cold, that is technologically astute but which fails to nurture the relationships that give life its warmth. In a cold society, death may seem desirable. How can we make those last years a fulfilling and relationally warm period so that death loses its draw?