Physician-Assisted Suicide Unmasked
I don’t know why pain and suffering are part of our human condition. I do know that as individuals each of us is “a unique, unrepeatable being” which means that pain and suffering will manifest itself differently in each of our lives. I’m told my grandmother had a saying “If we all put our problems on the kitchen table, we’d take our own right back again.” This saying often comes to mind whenever I think about those dealing with difficult health issues – be it me, a member of my family, a friend, a neighbour or a person in my community. It was on my mind when I attended a bioethics seminar by Professor Margaret Somerville titled The Ethics of Physician-Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia: Understanding the arguments for and against legalization.
The lecture hall at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon is packed with people of all ages. A young woman in scrubs sits next to me. Further down my row I see some white coats. In the row behind me I see a few priests. A fire alarm goes off just as Professor Somerville is about to speak. It’s interesting to note that while many heads turn towards the exit door not one person rises from their seat. This is an important topic. Our province is the birthplace of socialized medicine. It’s where well-known politician Tommy Douglas used legislation to inject government into the doctor/patient relationship. What began as political promises of health care for all resulted in a loss of autonomy for both doctors and patients. The doctor/patient relationship has been chronically ill ever since. If physician-assisted suicide is legalized the doctor/patient relationship will become terminal.
Most people know that assisted suicide or helping another person kill themself is illegal in Canada. Last June Quebec became the first province to pass health care legislation providing a right to physician-assisted suicide as Bill 52: An act respecting end-of-life care. Those promising a right to die for all are now working to introduce new health care legislation in the remaining provinces.
Professor Somerville provides an overview of some of the pros and cons we’ve been hearing about in the media. During the question and answer session, I ask two questions about Quebec’s new legislation. My first question – Is it true this law obligates public hospitals and therefore doctors working in public hospitals to provide physician-assisted suicide as an option under the umbrella of end-of-life care? She confirms it’s true and informs me that the law applies to any health care facility in the province including hospitals, nursing homes and private facilities. My second question – If they can’t find enough doctors to comply, will this obligation then trickle down to nurses et cetera? Her answer is yes and she provides the example of Belgium where they now have an ambulatory service that will come to your house and inject you with drugs that will kill you. The words “like dial-a-death” escape my mouth and run into the microphone.
I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice in health care, but I find it’s an area where people often confuse rights and freedoms; like those claiming that dying with dignity is a human right. There is no right to a life with health and happiness, and there is no right to a death with dignity and compassion. Is this prescription for death really about freedom of choice in health care?
The means to an end
A human rights based approach to health care is becoming the preferred means to an end for those wanting to manipulate the law through medicine. It’s a strategy that has the power to transform criminal intentions and behaviours into commonly accepted medical practices. Assisting another person in killing themself soon becomes known as “physician-assisted suicide” then “medical aid in dying” or “end-of-life choice”. The same strategy was used to create a supervised injection facility for drug addicts in British Columbia under the banner of “harm reduction”. The term “supervised injection site” is now being replaced with “supervised consumption site” in anticipation of its expansion to oral and inhalation services.
At first glance the human rights emperor appears to be wearing a carefully crafted white coat trimmed with golden threads of equality and social justice; only upon closer examination does one discover it’s an illusion. Right to die legislation obligates government to act in opposition to its role as protector of our fundamental right to life! Since the government cannot act of its own accord it must allow some citizens the power to infringe on the individual rights and freedoms of others. The policies and institutions arising from such legislation further destroy individual autonomy and freedom of choice. Right to die legislation invites inequality by exempting certain citizens, in this case doctors, from criminal laws. Masquerading murder as medical practice does not make it just. Hitler used this tactic to usher in his euthanasia program in Germany. The program, administered by physicians, was a forerunner to his “Final Solution” resulting in the extermination of millions of human beings. We already know what happens in a society where some citizens are given the power to decide whether or not you are worthy of your life.
There is good and evil in this world and one of the most important roles of both government and society is to help protect individuals from harm. It’s morally wrong for a person to murder another or help murder another. Our criminal laws reflect this principle. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that a doctor who supplies a patient with a weapon in the form of a prescription is any less guilty of this crime. Evil must not be given the opportunity to hide behind a doctor’s coat and mask.
The value of a human life
Our right to life is based on the principle that a single human life has value. Government must not be allowed the power to violate this right nor any majority in a democratic society vote it away. Neither pain and suffering nor death itself can erase the value of those we love. The very essence of their being remains imprinted on our hearts and minds.
Each of us is responsible for our own moral conduct. Most of us rely on a moral compass which calls on us to search our own conscience by looking to the depths of our own soul. It’s morally wrong for an individual choosing death over life to summon the power of government to force the personal responsibility for this moral choice onto the shoulders of others.
It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s important for us to be alert to groups using human rights based strategies to health care. It’s Important for us to take the time to read between the lines of proposed health care legislation. Our thoughts must delve past the emotional frenzy created through the media. We must question the long-term consequences of this legislation on the doctor/patient relationship, individuals and their families, and our society.
Perhaps what will matter most to future generations looking back on this time is what matters to those of us now judging the past – whether we chose to be a conscious participant, an indifferent observer, or a beacon of hope.