Benjamin Franklin quipped, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
While you may cheat the taxman, you can’t cheat death. As a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide, the only question is the timing of when you meet the grim reaper. Does Mother Nature set the date, or do you?
No doubt this issue will play a role in the upcoming federal election, with the groups supporting death with dignity and those campaigning for the sanctity of life, each pressing candidates for their respective positions on the matter. I dare say by now the federal parties’ spin doctors have already written straddling positions on the matter. But allowing for assisted suicide isn’t up for debate as the fact is, like it or not, the Supreme Court ruled that assisted suicide is a right, and thus legislation is necessary.
It is hard to argue with the dying with dignity supporters that a terminally ill person dying a painful death should have the right to end their suffering. And it is easy to understand the “slippery slope” concerns of those opposed. The court ruled that adults who are mentally competent and suffering physically or psychologically from intolerable, irremediable medical conditions have the right to obtain a doctor’s help in dying. The crucial element in the ruling is assessing the “mentally competent” and who determines that competence.
Philosophically speaking, when you are young and healthy, it is easy to say “if I ever get to that point, pull the plug.” Is the easy answer to this dilemma a binding health-care directive made well in advance of any intolerable illness? But what happens if you make that directive, and then when faced with imminent death, you change your mind at a time when you are not deemed to be mentally competent? The indomitable human spirit is geared to survival and as long as there is a shred of hope for a better tomorrow, I think very few people would actually have the courage to terminate their own life even when death is knocking at the door.
If you cannot determine for yourself whether death is a viable alternative to life, should next of kin get to make that decision for you? We all like to think that our loved ones would hang on to us as long as they can, but with each passing generation our lifetime is extended beyond past generations, thanks to medical intervention. As crass as it sounds, if next of kin are allowed to make the decision, will the emotional and financial burden of caring for ailing family members encourage euthanasia? Will obtaining the spoils of a patient’s estate play a role in determining a patient’s future, or lack thereof? Also, will physician-assisted suicide negate an insurance payment to the deceased’s survivors, and, if so, for that reason will kinfolk deny your wish to die?
To some degree we already have people making life and death decisions for others. Family members or guardians already place Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders on the chronically ill. There are news reports of parents refusing proven medical procedures for their children and opting for cultural and/or alternative treatments which, in most instances, end in death.
By the sounds of things, thankfully only physicians will be allowed to assist in the dying with dignity option. Talk about a tough job. The fact is, most of us struggle with euthanizing a sick and suffering family pet. So how do we ask doctors to do what we ourselves couldn’t do, which is to end a person’s life? Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, which is basically to do no harm to their patients. Will we exempt doctors from assisting with a suicide if they conscientiously object based on their oath and the first commandment “thou shall not kill”? Then again, doctors already play that role to some degree by recommending to next of kin that there be no further medical treatment and comfort family members by saying they will keep the patient pain free to the end, or that patients be disconnected from life support systems.
In 1930 the life expectancy at birth was 59.7 years. Fast forward to 2010 and life expectancy at birth is 78.7 years. In less than a century, we have added about 20 years to the average lifespan at birth. With extended life come the greater cost to publicly funded health care, home and senior care and pension sustainability. Will these issues, subliminally or otherwise, impact on the outcome of those having to draft legislation?
The court ruling includes assisted suicide for those suffering from an intolerable, irremediable psychological illness. How will it be determined that a patient suffering from a psychological illness, which affects the mind, has the mental competence to end their life?
As hard as it is to watch a person we love die, it is harder to watch that person suffer from unbearable pain resulting from an incurable disease. For that reason I can support the dying with dignity camp, but only if it is the decision of the person asking for a peaceful and painless death. Besides, it saves the family bickering and/or putting a burden of guilt on kinfolk to make that decision.
I expect this legislation will divide Canadians much like the death penalty and abortion issues did. The legislation will necessarily have to have strict controls; and doctors should be allowed to determine individually whether or not they will aid in the procedure. And we will individually govern ourselves if faced with this dilemma.
Just an afterthought, but maybe we should just send this issue back to the unelected Supreme Court jurists and let them draft the legislation they want and save the money and years of time on challenges to whatever legislation an elected government might draft.