OP-ED: It's wrong to kill euthanasia debate

Rob Leggett
By Rob Leggett
November 10th, 2009

In May 2009, MP Francine Lalonde introduced a Private Member’s bill to legalize euthanasia and is due to have the second hour of debate take place Dec. 1, with the vote taking place on Dec. 2.

Bill C-384 would add an exception to the criminal code, ensuring that doctors will not face criminal prosecution if they help a person die. More specifically, any person at least 18 years old and who, after receiving or refusing treatment, continues to “experience severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief”, or who suffers from a terminal illness.

This issue is controversial because it brings into focus some very prevailing, but opposing, values. The conflict is often between the ideals of protecting of human life and the ultimate right to decisional independence.

In classical times, the Romans and Greeks succeeded in moving suicide into the arena of public debate and discourse but, with rise of Christianity, intolerance began to develop. In the classical period, suicide was criticized only if it was illogical or without cause, but Christians viewed it as if it were a direct obstruction of the will of God, which resulted in a denial of a Christian burial and a stigma placed on the surviving family members. As St. Augustine declared, “Life and its sufferings are divinely ordained by God and must be borne accordingly.”

By the nineteenth century, the debate over euthanasia and much of its discourse was focused on the “quality of life” and the right to determine when this quality had deteriorated to the point that it was tolerable to choose to cease living, and the continuing argument still seems to be this: are some acts absolutely immoral, or should we assess the morality of acts based upon their consequences?

For me, it seems utterly selfish, unfair and cruel to compel another person to live in excruciating pain for the remainder of his/her life, whether only days or years, or to force people like Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from ALS, to continue living despite being slowly suffocated by her disease … her only possible outcome ultimately a painful death.

Anti-euthanasia proponents will often cite the “slippery slope” argument, originally presented by the Nuremberg Trials judge Leo Alexander, who suggested that any act of mercy killing would inevitably lead to the mass killings of any unwanted people. While the Nazis did use the term euthanasia to conceal their mass murders, I do not suppose that any of their victims were terminally ill patients requesting to be killed.

However, I do believe that it is possible that, as a society, we can distinguish the basic importance of life, while at the same time upholding the right of the terminally-ill patient to die with dignity.

It is true that palliative care has improved, and it would be rare to find a physician who is worried about giving too much of a painkilling narcotic on the grounds that it may be habit forming; but the mere fact that there are people who believe it would be better that someone lives, even in a drug-induced comatose state, rather than allowing them a dignified death on their own terms, again, in my opinion can only be viewed as selfish, unfair and cruel.

I understand that there are real concerns, such as misuse and overuse, so the institution of strict parameters would have to be followed, like patient requests and living wills, but I also believe that there are occasions when euthanasia is not only humane, but the morally correct action. And until a person has looked into the tear-filled eyes of someone they love who is begging them to let it end, to finally let them go and can say to them, “No, despite how much you are suffering, I think you should live,” … until then, nobody should have the right to deny someone else a dignified death.

As a friend of mine once said to me…

“Its not that I want to die. I just don’t want to die like this.”

Categories: Op/Ed