Here behind the lines, one of the most elusive commodities to come by is closure. Nasty things, in particular, keep coming back to haunt us – or worse. And the nastier it is, the more likely it is that we will not see the state of affairs where we can say, “There. That’s it. It’s over, done with, and need not concern us again.” Sometimes what comes back is pesky, and even in a way, rather amusing. You thought you’d tidied the kitchen, but someone just made a snack, shared it with you, and now the counter needs cleaning again. But sometimes it’s like a cancer that seems to have yielded to treatment, but once again shows shadows on the diagnostic image. Time to rejoin the battle.
On September 30, 1993, in what would become a landmark decision, Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General), the Supreme Court of Canada held 5-4 against Sue Rodriguez in her attempt to strike down the laws against suicide. She wanted to, and eventually did, take her own life. This week, Lee Carter and her husband Hollis Johnson filed a suit in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday (April 26th) seeking to allow mentally competent adults suffering from incurable serious illness the right to physician-assisted suicide. They assert that the laws against obtaining medical help to assist suicide are unconstitutional because they deny individuals control over their physical, emotional and psychological dignity. The cancer is back.
No one has ever tried to set out why turning a physician, a healer, into a stone cold killer, is a necessary component in gaining “control over their physical, emotional and psychological dignity.” No one has ever explained why is makes more sense to assume that one does not own one’s life unless one can destroy it than it does to assume that a small child does not own his toys or his teddy bear unless he can destroy it. But of course, the challenges do not seek to appeal to sense, or logic, certainly not to ethics and morality in any form. No, they appeal only to laws and constitutions, neither of which is a bad thing, but nether of which is, alone or taken together, the be-all and the end-all in the factors pertinent to the issue at hand. And we can only wonder whether or not it will be noticed that the real issue is not who controls life, but the question of what life is. That question, it seems, is simply being ignored, if not defined into irrelevance. The peril is quite significant.
The CBC is covering this latest development. To its credit, it has permitted comment on its news page presenting the article. Several of these comments are worth considering as a means of exploring this latest outbreak of pathology.
For the record, there were, of course, a number of comments saying, yes, the laws prohibiting assisting a suicide should be struck down. But they all have the same minimal depth, and the same basis. It’s all about freedom, and doing to people what we do to suffering animals. If we can do it to the dog, we can, it seems, do it to Aunt Jane, and the law mustn’t try to stop us. There were, though, some slightly more thoughtful comments. One person observed:
As long as it can never become a slippery slope, I can understand that there are circumstances where a person may make his last ultimate choice in life. But I certainly want that decision left to me.
How, one must enquire, can it be guaranteed that, in fact, it can never become a slippery slope? Indeed, is removing the present laws not the first slip down the slope? G.K Chesterton made the point that, before one removes a fence, it is important to first determine why it was put there in the first place. I say nothing against free will, but we cannot make the assumption that every decision we might make is totally unfettered. Free choice is not choice made in the absence of influence, pressure, or even coercion. If it comes to pass that people have the choice of ending their lives, then it will come to pass that the pressures to have them opt to do so will grow.
Years ago, to support the use of fetal stem cells in research, a group paraded celebrities before a committee of the United States Senate. One of those who appeared was Christopher Reeves, paralyzed years earlier by a fall from a horse. In advocating for fetal stem cell use, he stated to the committee that government had to act to do the greatest good for the greatest number. It was a rather cruel line to have this man recite. By the cold, hard, numbers at the time he spoke, the funds spent just keeping him alive would surely have dome more good for more people had they been spent elsewhere, perhaps on research, or perhaps on efficacious treatments. Had the choice been open to him, following his own advice would have moved him to curtail the expenditure on him by opting to end his life. But that choice wasn’t open, because where he was, laws, like a fence, prevented a slide down that slippery slope. Would that line have even been written into his script had the fence not been there?
And without the fence, what happens if one cannot make the decision due to incapacity? What if others must make it? Without the fence, the slide down the hill can start with assertions like, “I know John Doe better than anyone, and he would want to have his life ended rather than carry on like this, as a burden” (or suffering, or unaware, or as may be). What will be the disposition of a system strained by shortages and growing demands for access to the prospect of freeing up a space by respecting what would, on the apparent evidence, be the choice of the individual? Having worked in government service for 30 years, I can state that one would do well not to trust one’s life to the judgment of a bureaucrat chosen at random. Is it at all reasonable to take away the fence because we can assume that we ourselves will make the decision, let alone make it without fetter? Think very hard about that; your life may depend on the answer.
While we are discussing choice, what about the physicians? Will they have a choice in the matter? Must they turn murderer to satisfy the demand of a patient who may present to them in the context of someplace like a walk-in clinic? Will they be sued if they refuse? Will they be denied privileges to practice in hospitals? Will they be prosecuted? Given what has happened to coerce their behaviour when abortions are demanded, and given how bureaucrats have utterly ignored the personal convictions of people such as provincial marriage commissioners in forcing them to ply their trade, the prospects for respect of choice on the part of physicians does not look at all promising if the fence is torn down.
Invoking freedom of choice can lead to rhetoric that, on the surface, strikes one as being quite melodious. However, there is every indication that the melody is that of a siren song that can lead to a ruinous shipwreck.
With the state having a stranglehold (death grip?) on the health care system in this country, comments also involved its role and potential actions in a suicide scenario.
With the state of our savings, retirement finances, healthcare and the increasing average age of Canadians this would be a great help to the future generation.
Oh those old people! They are such a burden on society. How dare they want to stand in the way of younger people enjoying life, even if it was their work and tax dollars that provided the wherewithal for the young people to do so? Why can’t they just get out of the way?
Comments like the one above show just how very near to the surface is the impulse to have recourse to expediency and economy, even where life itself is involved. Now of course, very few can give expression to that impulse through an overt act of murder, actually gunning down or poisoning Uncle Fred or Aunt Jane, or Dad, or Mom. But if the system is in place for them to do it to themselves, what’s wrong with them using it, so that care is no longer needed, and resources come available to those who can use them? If ever it were needed to demonstrate that the concerns about any available choice under the proposed system would be other than unfettered were not without substance, comments like this make it very clear that the concerns do not arise from theoretical whimsy. Once, behind the lines, it was considered to be not good form to seek to get rid of one’s older relatives to gain access to resources. Now the push is to institutionalize the process. I think they label it, “progress.”
It has been observed that, without a respect for life itself, respect for virtually everything else will be next to impossible to maintain. After all, if it is okay to kill someone, or okay to make it so they do the deed to themselves, what is beyond the pale? It is absurd to think that if society can see you die, it cannot see you beaten, or robbed, or abused in some other manner. So then, given that life itself can be taken in order to address problems such as savings, retirement finances, health care, and aging (death certainly solves the problem of aging), what other, lesser steps are to be excluded from being taken to address these issues, and potentially others, among those who are not done in? Where life is cheap, no virtue can thrive.
The society in which life is cheap is not new to history. That is tacitly acknowledged in another comment.
Comparing this to the Nazi’s euthanasia policy is RIDICULOUS! How is choosing for yourself to die and someone ordering your death against your will even close to the same thing?
The answer is, of course, that the only dissimilarity between the two is who gets to play God. We have seen that it is at best a tenuous proposition that such a choice, if ever available, could be one made in a totally unfettered manner. The issue of solving the problems of limited resources by eliminating those who tax them has been put on the table. In urging people to allow life to be cheapened, the advocates are echoing a previously enunciated principal. “Man must realize that a fundamental law of necessity reigns throughout the whole realm of Nature and that his existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife. He will then feel that there cannot be a separate law for mankind in a world in which planets and suns follow their orbits, where moons and planets trace their destined paths, where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed. Man must also submit to the eternal principles of this supreme wisdom. He may try to understand them but he can never free himself from their sway.” To cheapen life, to make it dispensable and a disposable commodity, some pervasive force must be at work, the force characterized in the above passage. And before we dismiss the proposition that no comparison with Nazi euthanasia is appropriate, we might note that the above presentation of the principle is taken from Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 140.
Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Cardinal Bishop (and lion) of Munster stood brave, outspoken, and uncompromising witness to the sanctity of life in the face of the application of this principle that led to attempts at institutionalized euthanasia. And that is, quite simply, what is being advocated today. Ignoring that is foolhardy, not at all ridiculous. Thinking we can do the same thing again and get different results here, today, in Canada, fits Einstein’s definition of insanity.
The most bogus part of the claims of those out to institutionalize medical complicity in suicide is the tacit assumption that there are no alternatives. Another comment highlighted this fact.
It is too bad that we can’t get Canadians to put this much effort to improve our healthcare system as they do in wanting to kill off their relatives because they have become a burden to them.
Before I was 35, I had occasion to stand by the bed of each of my dying parents. Don’t let anyone tell you that is an easy thing to do. But likewise, don’t let anyone pervert and corrupt you by coming to think it would have been better had they offed themselves to spare you that ordeal. Having celebrated 12 birthdays my mother never got to, and 6 my father never got to, I can now appreciate that, indeed, they died young. But they died in the care of a medical system that did what it could to heal, support, and comfort them, not one that functioned like the exit facility in the movie “Soylent Green.” We have a medical system with problems, but we have at the same time a medical system that does much, much good. The choice we make will show much of our moral character as a nation. Will we seek to make the good better, or degrade it by making it the agent of expediency? And the choice will matter. People who seek to form death squads would do well to consider that, should they be successful, they may come to be the targets of their services themselves. Genies, especially evil genies, can be impossible to put back into their bottles.
Here behind the lines, we do get glimpses of what can be accomplished if we stand firm to the temptation of giving ear to the siren song of expediency. At the beginning of May, the Church will beatify Venerable John Paul II. There is much to be said about this man’s life, and what he accomplished, and it has been said, and eloquently, and need not be repeated here. But it would profit us to consider his death as well as his life. At the end of his life, there was nothing much more to be done for him. He was failing; he could not speak, and had to have his final addressed read for him. Everything was an effort, yet he responded in love to the love of the people for him by appearing and greeting them, in his silence and weakness. One observer described it this way:
“Pope John Paul II left the throne of St. Peter in the same way he ascended to it — as a witness to the dignity of human life. In his native Poland, that witness launched a democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe and changed the course of history. Throughout the West, John Paul’s witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak. And during the Pope’s final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.”
Yes, he had accomplished much in life, but in the end, his witness “was made even more powerful” in the way he faced death. Rather than beatifying him, would we even be remembering him with anything close to fondness or respect if he had, say, crunched down on a cyanide capsule? Here behind the lines, there is a lot of flim-flam peddled about. In this case, the flim-flam takes the form of suggesting that suicide in any way adds to emotional or psychological dignity, or dignity of any kind. The truth of that will be before us to contemplate as the Church beatifies John Paul II at the first of next month. A prayer of thanksgiving for such a vivid contrast to what is being proposed yet again would not be out of order.
(For the record, the observation above was not made by a Catholic or for that matter by any religious leader. President of the United States George W. Bush made it.)
As wearisome as it may be, it is time once again to combat the cancer that has reappeared. It has, apparently, appeared in a weakened body, for the suit is not brought by someone who seeks erstwhile control over their own life as did Sue Rodriguez. No, these third parties want to impose this condition on the rest of us, and leave us with a perverted medical system to achieve their ends. They must be countered, and everyone can help. Politicians must be told, clearly, that people will not passively yield to the advance of the culture of death. Religious leaders must know that their followers expect them to display leadership on this issue. Who knows, there may be a spiritual successor to Blessed Cardinal von Galen just needing a bit of encouragement. (This Catholic certainly hopes, perhaps against hope that in the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops the will see fit to provide leadership.) This is not an academic debate or an esoteric point of law. This is a battle to the death.