The right to choose your end?

I’m still in the middle of something very much akin to a work hangover, having worked seven days in a row, the last five being twelve-plus-hours. Yesterday was to be a day off, but I ended up having to go in to deal with a server room cooling crisis. And today I have some corporate visitors to meet. So, my blogging has been less than timely, and I’ve had to husband my personal time carefully. It should come as no surprise that Ophelia Benson caught this editorial long before I did, and blogged about it before I could.

From the Globe and Mail:

Time and again, opinion polls show a large majority of Canadians support the idea that the terminally ill should be able to decide when and how they die. They believe that competent adults in unbearable pain, suffering from an illness that will never improve, have the right to die with dignity.

And yet the Canadian government is no closer to resolving how – or if – to reform the law against euthanasia; no politician is brave enough to champion such a contentious cause, or even to launch a national debate probing public opinion.

The issue remains divisive and morally fraught. Critics of euthanasia, including some Christian groups and advocates for the disabled, fear it could lead to “mercy” killings of the vulnerable and the elderly.

As baby boomers age, experts believe they will lobby for a change to the section of the Criminal Code that makes euthanasia illegal (and punishable by up to 14 years in prison), in the same way they advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and for other momentous social changes.

With protections, as advocated in the editorial, winning the right to choose when to die is no more inhumane than signing a “do not resuscitate” order when you know your time is waning. As long as you’re medically competent, as long as the medical science can do nothing to staunch the pain you’ll endure through the remainder of your life, the calculus behind deciding whether to choose to end your life before having to endure such agony may well come out in favor of suicide. If there’s absolutely nothing a doctor can do outside of drugging you out of your head for the rest of your life, that may not be a dignified way to end your existence. And if that’s the case, you should have the right to a less painful and more dignified end, under controlled circumstances with a trained professional assisting you in ending your life as humanely as possible.

I would require a significant amount of proof that this termination was done at the patient’s request, mind you. And a full autopsy should be done to determine that the patient actually died of the cocktail of drugs administered to end their life, so as to keep various shady dealings from going on, e.g. accidental death being written off as a requested suicide to prevent malpractice or to commit some sort of murderous fraud. The Dutch law this proposal is modeled after has a six part test, of which “express request” is the first part. Another is a “lasting desire to die”, meaning this isn’t some flash-in-the-pan request made out of temporary anguish. It also requires counselling as to options and other hoops. This is an acceptable burden, to me, to win the right to choose when and how to die with medical assistance.

What are your thoughts on this? Are there any good (e.g. non-religious) reasons to keep euthanasia illegal here in Canada, one of the otherwise most progressive countries in the world? (Never mind Harper and his, among other things, climate denialism for the moment.)

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The right to choose your end?
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9 thoughts on “The right to choose your end?

  1. 2

    Interesting coincidence that you bring this up, as I was just reading a Catholic church bulletin on how physician assisted suicide must be opposed. After stripping the article of fluff, it boiled down to two reasons; 1: It will lead to some undefined “slippery slope”. No more explanation was given on that. 2: It puts the health care proxy in a tough situation where they have to choose between life or death of another person (which, of course, is irrelevant since were talking about suicide.)

    So it seems even the religious can’t come up with any good arguments.

  2. 3

    Absolutely, I think that’s a basic human right, in fact.

    No reason to oppose it except religious ones. The Netherlands, Sweden, Oregon, Washington state–the skies haven’t fallen there.

    Britain arrests anyone who even *travels* with someone going to Sweden for assisted suicide–on some bogus charge of facilitating a homicide or something. Unconscionable.

    Basically, for me it boils down to: no government is going to tell me what to do with my life, or how I should die. I’m going to decide. It’s none of their damn business.

    I’ve already thought about moving to Oregon or flying to another country if I decide I’m in too much pain, or something. I would in a heartbeat, if some government tries to stop me from having such basic control of my own body and my own life.

  3. 4

    If I feel that my cats deserve a pain free, terror free death when their time comes (The Grey Lady is over 15 this year), why is it not possible for me to have the same.
    I believe that we should all have the right to a dignified death – and if that takes jumping through a few hoops, no problem. It does, however, seem to me that hoop number one should be getting the agreement of your nearest and dearest, and cleaning up the financial matters beforehand. You may have the right to a death with dignity, but that doesn’t mean that you have a right to leave a mess behind for someone else to clean up.

  4. 5

    There is nothing more caring, compassionate, and humane that letting someone choose to end their own pain and suffering (with help if needed). It’s not going to result in Hospital Death Squads going around dispatching people who are just too much trouble to keep alive (though perhaps private insurance companies might start asking for such a thing if they’re not allowed to stop paying out benefits, which is one of the multitude of reasons I thank the monkey gods that I’m Canadian).

    I’ve had an infection in my gums once. It was an ongoing pain like no other I’ve felt before or since. Fortunately we live in an age of antibiotics so it was something that got cleared up pretty quickly, but I do remember thinking about assisted suicide at the time. Not that I wanted it, but how if that kind of pain was something that couldn’t be cured, I wouldn’t want to be forced to live in that much agony. To do so would be cruel and sadistic.

    But I’m not surprised that followers of a cruel and sadistic mythology who fetishize suffering expect people to suffer.

  5. 6

    My concern is that even if it is passed, the restrictions will be too onerous. I do understand that we want to protect people from nasty relatives and make sure that they aren’t going to “regret”* the decision. But really, we shouldn’t be forcing sick people to jump through hoops to get relief.

    *regret if they could, but they can’t anyway because they’re dead, but you know what I mean.

  6. 7

    I have no problem at all with giving someone a button to push to activate an IV full of quick acting poison if they are judged to be mentally sound (and obviously a wish to die can’t be the only reason they aren’t). Hell, I don’t have that much of a problem with the suicide booth from Futurama. The world does not lack for people, and while every death is a tragedy for someone, that’s no reason to force people to be alive.

    The only problem I see with euthanasia is the need in some cases for assistance. If someone can’t reasonably end/be set up to end their own life, who has to help them? That’s a pretty grim job description, at least as it would be seen now.

  7. 8

    My end is likely a long way off, but I’ve seen and heard what has happened to family members who died. Their deaths weren’t long by some standards, but when I envision myself in their place, I do not want anything like that happening to me even for a few days. The combination of confinement, agonizing pain, and confusion is no way to say goodbye to the world. If I don’t get taken out early by a bus or a bullet, I want to be able to choose the time and (within reason) means of my death, including authorizing someone else to do me in, if that’s what it takes. That is my right. This is my life, nobody else’s. The problem is that when I most need to defend that right, I’ll be unable to do so.

  8. 9

    You’re holding onto the reins too tightly. The suggestion regarding autopsy, for instance, is unnecessary, and somewhat macabre. These circumstances are already fraught with great anxiety. Why add unnecessarily to the grief of those left behind? If there are or could be suspicious circumstances, this might be appropriate, but in ordinary cases of assisted dying there is no need for it at all. This is about choice, about people making responsible choices, and it’s not only about pain. It’s about control, independence, choice, and, in ordinary circumstances, where laws are in place, the fact that someone has asked for assistance will not be a secret, but will be well known. I understand the need for care regarding such things as this, since we do not want to put matters of life and death in the hands of third parties. But ensuring that the choice is free and voluntary and based on reasonable grounds, is not that hard to establish. They’ve been doing this in Switzerland for 70 years, without any obvious problems. Nowadays, the solution is to tape the person who is being assisted expressing their understanding of what they are about to do, and then show them doing it. Please don’t make the issue any heavier than it need be. It’s already hard enough with the religious crowd presenting scary stories.

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