Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A dance of death

By Jean Echlin, Special to The Windsor Star - September 22, 2009

http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Guest+column+dance+death/2018925/story.html

The Carillon concerts from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill may soon ring out with Saint-Saens' symphonic poem Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). Bloc MP Francine Lalonde has introduced her third private member's bill (C-384) to allow legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Discussion and voting will take place this fall.

Scientific advances give us longer life and better quality of life as we age, providing our society a "hint of immortality." Meanwhile, the cults of death, Dying with Dignity and Compassion & Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) are pushing their agenda of death for either mental or physical discomfort/suffering, creating a confusing paradox. The opportunity to live longer is offset by what will become an imposed duty to die sooner.

Persons at highest risk will be the elderly, especially women 55 and older (misogyny still exists) and more elderly men due to the issues of ageism and elder abuse; those with mental or physical disabilities, especially those suffering depression with suicidal ideation; partners in scenarios of domestic violence; babies and children born with disabilities and birth anomalies; persons who are poor and disenfranchised; members of minority groups and individuals unable to speak for themselves.

Lalonde's bill states that "medical practitioners" will perform the death procedures. We have no right to ask our professional caregivers to provide us with death. Neither should they ever feel obliged or forced to comply with this request that goes against our essential humanity.

How would anyone know if the person coming into their hospital room with needle and syringe was intent on curing or killing?

This would destroy the trust relationship between patients, families, health care providers and institutions.

Programs of hospice/palliative care provide real hope for those with life-threatening or terminal disease. The cornerstone of excellence in these programs is the management of pain and other distressing symptoms (physical, psycho-spiritual and social). Quality end-of-life care is a priority. Unfortunately only 15 to 20 per cent of Canadians can access this care. Before any discussion of euthanasia or assisted suicide, all Canadians, regardless of age or disease, must have access to palliative care. To do otherwise simply provides a means of health care cost containment.

Recently in Oregon, Barbara Wagner, a 54 year old woman, was denied treatment for lung cancer because of cost, but was offered assisted suicide ($75) by the Oregon department of health. Barbara wanted to live. She has since died.

According to Canadian medical ethicist Margaret Somerville, "The proper goal of medicine and physicians is to kill pain. It is not their role to kill a patient with pain -- to become society's executioners -- which is what euthanasia entails, no matter how merciful our reasons. Physicians (and nurses added) must provide adequate pain relief. Leaving a person in pain is really 'torture by wilful omission."

Too often people believe that morphine is killing the patient when in fact the underlying disease causes death. Careful titration of opioids is not euthanasia.

Mark Pickup, another outstanding Canadian author, who suffers late stage multiple sclerosis (MS), writes: "There will always be suicidal people, but a civilized society does not acquiesce to the darkness of the abyss by participating in anyone's suicide. By definition, civilized people have rejected the barbarism of killing their weak and sick. Euthanasia is cheap compassion. It requires so little of us. It is a form of murder masquerading as mercy."

The five major world religions reject killing of another. Citing from the Judeo-Christian and Islamic world views comes the command: "You shall not kill," (Exodus 20:13), "Do not take life," (Qu'ran 17:33).

In general, both Hinduism and Buddhism oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia as acts of destroying life and disrupting the cycle of life and death. These words of life are wisdom.

Jean Echlin RN, MSN, is a nursing consultant, palliative care, in Windsor. Jean was awarded the Dorothy Lea award for excellence in palliative care by the Ontario Hospice Palliative Care Association in 2004.

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