Assisted Suicide


It is upsetting and depressing living life in the shadow of death.
Many questions appear on this debatable topic, such as should we
legalize euthanasia? What is euthanasia? What is assisted suicide? What
is the difference between Passive and Active Euthanasia? What is
Voluntary, Non-voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia? What is Mercy
Killing? What is "Death with dignity"? But if euthanasia was legalized,
wouldn't patients then die peacefully rather than using plastic bags or
other methods? And unfortunately the list continues. No one denies
that there are many vulnerable persons who require the protection of
the law. Take, for example, those in a temporary state of clinical
depression, perhaps caused by a traumatic event in their lives. These
persons will recover and go on to lead productive, happy lives, and it
would be unconscionable to encourage or support them in a transitory
wish to die. There are also many unemployed and unemployable, many
disabled of all ages, and many senior citizens whose families might,
for selfish or downright malicious reasons, encourage them to seek
assisted suicide. All kinds of people in difficult situations could be
at risk of being intimidated or forced into feeling their early death
would be a convenience to society. Section 241 is doubly flawed. It is
not an especially effective drawback against those who seek to prey on
the vulnerable, but at the same time it forces persons enduring
intolerable suffering to exist in that state against their own wishes,
thus denying them their right of self-determination as citizens in a
free democracy. Competent, rational human beings must have the right to
determine their own health care according to their personal wishes,
values and beliefs, as long as such a determination does not jeopardize
the safety or well-being of any other person. We do not believe, for
instance, that people have the right to kill themselves by driving
recklessly and in so doing jeopardize the safety of others. To kill
oneself by causing an explosion that will inevitably put others at risk
is horror. It is also reproachable to end one's own life without regard
to the trauma it might inflict on the vulnerable. People shall never
forget the horror suffered by two young children who arrived home after
school to find their mother hanging from the hall chandelier, or by a
teen-age boy who found his father with his head blown apart from a
self-inflicted shotgun wound in the kitchen of their home. We also
need to consider the anguish of family members, friends and even
health-care professionals who must continue to witness, day after day,
the suffering of people they love and wish to help.

If a remedy for such suffering does not exist within the law, people
will have recourse to the unwritten law of simple justice. Proponents
of euthanasia argue that "mercy-killing" is necessary because patients
particularly those with terminal illness, experience uncontrollable
pain. They argue that the only way to alleviate the pain is to
eliminate the patient. But is there a better way? In the last few
years a number of court cases have shown the quandary the legal system
is in about this issue. In a recent presentation to the Supreme Court,
Dying With Dignity outlined some of these problems.

"Developments in the medical sciences and in the protection of human
dignity have created expectations in Canadians that they will be able
to exercise greater control over fundamental issues respecting personal
autonomy and human dignity, bodily integrity and issues of life and
death.... The advances in medical science, and in particular the
capacity of medical science to intervene in the natural cycle of life
and death, have led also to a re-examination of many fundamental
issues, including the protection Canadian society should accord to the
values of sanctity of life. Of particular importance... is the
circumstances under which a person may determine the manner and time of
his or her own death."

The Case of Sue Rodriguez

Canada's most important (to date) dramatic and high-profile court case
with respect to the issue of physician-assisted suicide took place in
1992-93. Sue Rodriguez, a young woman aged forty when she was first
diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou
Gehrig's disease) is an intelligent, aware person. She had done her
research and knew full well the death that was in store for her. Mrs.
Rodriguez, mother of a small child, knew that the disease would
gradually rob her of the ability to walk, move her body at will, eat
and finally breathe without mechanical assistance. Her mind would
remain alert, however, trapped in the shell of her body. Sue Rodriguez
did not find dignity in such a life and wished instead to circumvent
such an end by requesting physician-assisted suicide at a time and in a
manner of her own choosing. She determined that she would like to
activate a machine that would facilitate her death, but would also like
to have a physician present, in case, through some unpredictable
eventuality, something went awry and she needed further aid in dying.
Christopher M. Considine, lawyer for Mrs. Rodriguez, took her case to a
lower court, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which denied her
request, and then to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In the judgment on
appeal from the Court of Appeal, the decision was lost by a vote of two
to one. Justice McEachern in his dissenting opinion, based mostly on
arguments relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
presented by Mrs. Rodriguez's counsel, outlined a set of guidelines by
which he felt Mrs. Rodriguez could be granted her wish. The matter
then proceeded with unusual speed to the Supreme Court of Canada. On
May 20, 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Appeal of Sue
Rodriguez v. Attorney General of British Columbia and Attorney General
of Canada. This is just one case of thousands upon thousands of people
who seek help and the only way which they know how to help themselves
is by elimination. In closing, we must emphasize that the issue is now
out in the open. As the proliferation of media items attests, it will
not disappear from the Canadian scene just because it makes some
people uncomfortable. Simple humanity demands a resolution to this
debate, either in the courts or in legislation.

"Faith unto life,
 Hope unto death,
 love unto Eternal life"


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