When Life is no Longer Dignified

Let me get this on the table right off the bat.  Russ Bosch and I are friends.  We are both social conservatives, yet we don’t agree on everything.  Social Conservatism, or the principles of such, is as varied in its practice by adherents as the dialects of Chinese are to the speakers.

Background:

OTTAWA – More than two decades after denying ALS sufferer Sue Rodriguez’s request to end her life with the help of a doctor, Canada’s top court shifted gears Friday morning and unanimously struck down Canada’s assisted suicide ban. 1

In striking down Canada’s assisted suicide ban, the supreme court put strict conditions in place regarding the practice of assisted suicide.  The two main conditions are;

  1. The person must be an adult who is experiencing intolerable suffering that is either physical or psychological; they must clearly consent to the termination of his or her life,
  2. the medical condition must be grievous, “irremediable,” causing “enduring suffering” that is “intolerable to the individual. 1

The court then left the ball in the courts of the Federal Parliament and Provincial Legislatures.  “It is for Parliament and the provincial legislature to respond, should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons,” the court ruled.

So here we are.  Another moral or ethical dilemma.  One of the comments, made by my father on the Sun News Network website, is going to be heard over and over again, “What gives Liberals the right to play God?”  To this I say, for once, the issue is not a liberal vs. conservative one.  There will be as many religious liberals up in arms over this decision as there are conservative religious folk.  The next problem this could create is the age old argument, made by liberals, stating doctors should not allow their moral compass to play a part in their decisions.  In other words, “if you are going to practice medicine, you will have to also agree to take part in euthanasia, should a patient request it.  The old abortion/birth control argument all over again.

The Arguments:
My friend Russ wrote an article, very quickly after the decision became public.  One would almost think he was sitting by his computer awaiting the news. In his article, entitled Truth in the talk of Dignity, Russ questions the implications of this law being struck down.  He asks, “Do we as Canadians not hold the value of all life as sacred? Is it not self-evident that human beings, by virtue of their humanity, are objectively valuable? Does that value makes them equal in worth to one another?”  I don’t understand the question, as it relates to assisted suicide.

First of all, who defines value?  When is a life of value, and when is the body an emtpy shell, devoid of intellect or memory, of a former valuable person?  The bigger question is, who gets to decide?

Russ uses the example of Robert and Tracy Latimer.  Anyone older than 30 should remember this case.  The Saskatchewan farmer killed his severely disabled daughter on On October 24, 1993.  He was subsequently found guilty of Second Degree Murder and sentenced to 2 years in prison.  The case was appealed and the full 10 year sentence was implemented.

This case, though sad, is not an argument relevant to the current case.  The current case deals with physician assisted suicide of ADULTS.  Tracy Latimer was not an adult.  I am not sure, had she been an adult, she would have been able to effectively and legally consent to having her life ended, much less by her father, and not a doctor.  So as I say to those having political arguments, let’s stick to comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

Russ goes on to question the very definition of dignity, and who gets to decide.  Well, the supreme court did not question this when they set the strict rules for assisted suicide.  First and foremost is the fact that the person requesting the service would have to consent to it.  They would have to decide, for themselves, what is and is not dignity.

We have heard cases of people in the early stages of dementia deciding they would rather die with their dignity and cognitive processes in tact.  I personally find nothing wrong with this scenario.  The problem has been that these people, though they are provided with the drugs and methods of administering them, have no access to a physician at the time of administration.  What if something goes wrong?  We know many state sanctioned murders, known as the death penalty, have gone wrong.  This, while a physician was in attendance.  Personally, I would want a doctor there to ensure everything is done properly, and in the case of a screw-up he/she would be able to fix problems in order that suffering is minimized.

Russ brings forth statistics, from countries where physician assisted suicides are legal, stating many cases where there is no evidence of consent.  Again, this argument is irrelevant to the decision of the court today.  I am sure we can find many cases of suicide, in Canada, where an unnamed, untraceable physician is involved.  The fact of the matter is, this law does not leave room for the holder of a power of attorney to decide to kill a person….  Oh wait…  A holder of a power of attorney is already permitted to ensure a DNR request is upheld.  They are permitted to ensure a no-heroic-measures request is upheld.  Usually these requests come with conditions.  Who decides if the conditions are being met?  Doctors?  Husbands?  Children?  Parents?  All of the above!!  People are deciding, daily, in Canada when to end someone’s life.  Now I can decide when to end my life.  ME!  The person who has to live in pain.  ME, the person who will become a burden to my offspring, to my partner, or to society as a whole.  I get to decide.

Let’s look at the case of Gillian Bennett. Bennett, an 85 year old philosopher and psychotherapist, was diagnosed with dementia.  This disease causes moments of confusion, decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.  Eventually the sufferer may become completely unable to communicate, remember anything, or can become completely vegetative.  In the case of Bennett, her dementia was certain to leave he in a vegetative state, completely reliant on family or healthcare professionals in order to live.

I have known that I have dementia, a progressive loss of memory and judgment, for three years. It is a stealthy, stubborn and oh-so reliable disease. I might have preferred an exotic ailment whose name came trippingly off the tongue, but no, what I have is entirely typical. I find it a boring disease, and despite the sweetness and politeness of my family I am bright enough to be aware of how boring they find it, too. It is so rough on my husband, Jonathan. I don’t think my lovely cat has noticed, but I’m not sure. 2

This intelligent, well educated, professional woman, a student of the brain herself, decided she wanted to die on her own terms.  She did not want to become a burden to family, friends, or the taxpayers of British Columbia.  She asked the question, “Do I want minder care for a mindless body?”  She wanted out before she became trapped in a body unable to make the decision to end her life.  She faced death with curiosity, as a student of the brain might.  Who are we to take this from her?  Read her story, in her own words, here.

I own horses.  I have owned dogs pretty much my entire life.  When a person accepts the ownership of an animal, they have a moral and ethical duty to ensure the animal is comfortable, happy and healthy.  How many people would force an animal, a dog, to live in pain?  Do we not have the ethical duty to euthanize an animal that is living in agony?  I have had to make the decision to end the life of a pet many times.  It is never easy.  It is more painful to me to hold the animal as it breaths its last breath than it is for the animal.

Why should I, as a human being, cognizant of pain just like an animal is, be forced to endure pain because someone else decides I should?  Why should I, a human being cognizant of my own dignity be forced to live in a state of indignity?  Should I be diagnosed with an illness that will surely lead to me being a vegetable and completely reliant on others, why should I not be able to end my life on my terms?  Mrs. Bennett was able to have a party for her family.  She was able to take them all aside and explain her decision and say goodbye.  I want that ability.  I don’t want to be kept alive, a shell, a fraction of the person I once was, just to be a burden on those I love and the healthcare system.

I applaud the supreme court for finally giving people their lives.  We now have control of how we live, and how we die.  We simply have no control over whether or not we are conceived and born.  Libertarians believe we should be permitted to live our lives without government intervention, or with as little intervention as possible.  This law now allows us to die with the same dignity.

I agree with Russ on certain aspects.  Yes, people need to be protected from others making these decisions for them.  Yes, there are cases where abuse takes place.  This is why  it is imperative the government put strict controls in place.  The decision has to be that of the person requesting the suicide, no one else.  We already have the right to be permitted to die in cases of severe injury, or heart attack and strokes etc.  We have a right to a living will requesting no heroic measures, or mechanical devices be used to support life where said life would end without them.  All this law does is give me the right to die on my own terms.

Of course I disagree with my father.  That is a requirement of being his son!!

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  1. Sun News Network, Jessica Hume, February 6, 2015 [] []
  2. Gillian Bennett, DeadAtNoon, August 18, 2014 []

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