With Canada poised to implement a law allowing terminally ill people to choose the time of their death, while also allowing for doctors with families’ permission to offer euthanasia, the old familiar outcry of those opposed has once again gathered force and volume. Let’s take the arguments one at a time.
One: The Slippery Slope
The worry here is that when the law is passed it will open the doors to all the relatives of the ill who wish to speed up the process for their own nefarious reasons. There is also concern that doctors, needing the hospital beds, will be premature in ending life. Opposers of this law speak of people who actually don’t want to die but pretend they do out of guilt for the hospital bills, family anguish and so on. The poor and disabled, they fear, will be unfairly targeted, and incentives for insurance companies wanting to make more money will be created.
The Netherlands passed a similar bill in 2002 and turns away two thirds of its applicants, who are overwhelmingly cancer patients. The rules are strict. Chance of recovery is nil and the suffering is unendurable. The patient must be fully cognizant of the situation, submit to psychological testing and have the consent of two separate doctors. As well, requests for this procedure must have persisted over time, and the patient cannot be under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs. In 2003 euthanasia was administered by doctors 1626 times (1.2 percent of all deaths that year).
Two: We Have No Right
The argument here is either religious, where proponents state the taking of life is for God alone, or moral, where the feeling is that it is simply wrong to end another person’s life under any circumstances, or both. Life must take its natural course.
There is nothing natural about keeping someone alive against their will. It is humans who invented and administered the drugs keeping these patients from dying normally. What of mercy? What of free will? The Bible speaks often and favourably of both. What of the individual’s right to choose to end a life devoid of quality or hope? Why must they endure to their anguished, inevitable end?
In five states in the U.S. (Washington, Oregon, Montana and Vermont ) physician aid in dying (PAD) is legal. California is set to join them in the coming weeks. Oregon was the first state and indeed one of the first jurisdictions in the world to pass the law in 1994. Euthanasia is illegal across America, the difference being that with PAD the patient administers his or her own lethal dose and also decides when to do so. It is mandatory that a physician be present.
Three: Doctors have a moral obligation to keep patients alive under any and all circumstances, as reflected in the Hippocratic Oath
The first rule under this oath is First Do No Harm. Keeping anyone alive against their express wishes due to their own suffering is most certainly doing harm. We show more compassion with our animals. If our beloved pet is in obvious chronic pain, most of us do not hesitate to step in and help them. Is it our deep and abiding fear of death that makes this so hard to reconcile with humans? Are we so loathe to part from our loved ones that we selfishly ignore their express and explicit wish to find peace?
Our survival instinct is strong and primal. To choose death in the face of this is profound indeed. We have a responsibility to those we cherish to honour their deep need for release.
Samantha Bennett is a writer and the owner of Soins Mille Pattes, a Montreal-based dog walking and pet care business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org where she warmly encourages feedback and debate.