Saturday, April 27, 2013

Your right to die impacts everyone's right to live

The following column was printed in the Calgary Herald on April 25, 2013.


Susan Martinuk
By Susan Martinuk, Calgary Herald, April 25, 2013

Another Canadian has travelled to Europe to be put to death on, what she believes, are her own terms. To most of us, those terms are better known as euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Seventy-two-year-old Susan Griffiths of Winnipeg suffered from multiple systems atrophy. She had lobbied for the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada and, last week, just prior to her death, she sent a letter with this request to Parliament. Fortunately, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has denied the request, yet a friend claims that Griffiths’ lobbying efforts will now be her legacy to this world.

Several months ago, Ruth Goodman, a Vancouver social activist, chose to end her life at the age of 91. Not because she was ill, but because she was tired and her friends were dying. She made an emotional public plea for legalizing the right to die in a posthumous letter sent to the media. She wanted people to have the right to “choose how and when to end their lives.”
Thursday’s Globe and Mail seemed all too eager to focus on these emotional stories, rather than report the unbiased facts of their deaths as one would expect of a newspaper. Perhaps by way of justification, it cited a growing trend in the number of Canadians who want to share their end-of-life stories as part of a grassroots movement to change the laws against assisted suicide. The Globe seems only too happy to oblige in such cases, choosing to glamorize those who take their own lives, rather than balancing its coverage with stories that encourage people to continue to live.

The Globe even reminded Canadians of Sue Rodriquez, the original “suicide story” that clawed at our national emotions, and her poignant plea for assisted suicide: “If I cannot give consent to my own death, then whose body is this? Who owns my life?”

In the article, former MP Svend Robinson, who had lobbied Canadians on behalf of Rodriquez, says Canadians admired her because “she put her life right out there and that’s what grabbed people — the courage she showed.”

So there it is — the classic left-wing argument against almost everything. Not based on facts or statistics, or what has happened in other countries, but on emotional narratives that are loaded with words like compassion, “I feel,” and claims of “my body, “my choice” and the ignorant and naive assumption that this “will only affect me.”


In sharp contrast, the reality is that giving individuals the right to die “on their own terms” has plenty of public implications. First of all, it involves the assistance of another and the assurance that society will not stand in the way. Therefore, it is very much a public, not private, act. By giving doctors the right to help their patients die, the legalization of euthanasia would also influence the kind of medical care that the rest of society receives. We currently have a medical profession that is dedicated to supporting life, and is not compromised by some within it who will happily help you to die. This is societal progress; in the time of Hippocrates, a healer/doctor could just as easily kill you as heal you, depending on the desires of those paying the bill.

A February 2013 survey by the Canadian Medical Association found that just 16 per cent of Canada’s doctors would be willing to perform euthanasia. Ultimately, Canadians have the gall (and the ignorance) to call for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide because we currently have no qualms about trusting our care and our lives to doctors when we go to a hospital or clinic. We have yet to experience living in a nursing home or going to a hospital where a doctor has the additional option of taking the patient’s life. That is why it’s instructive for us to consider what has happened in other nations:


Consider the Netherlands and the decade of euthanasia statistics reported in a 2012 study in The Lancet medical journal. The number of “assisted” deaths there has increased 73 per cent since 2003. About 23 per cent of cases are not reported to a review committee, as legally required. Over the years, physician-assisted suicide has morphed into the less provocative term “alleviation of symptoms,” and, in 41.2 per cent of deaths classified as such, the physician did not discuss the decision with the patient, relatives or another physician.

In Belgium, recent statistics show that 32 per cent of all assisted deaths occur without patient consent, and only 52.8 per cent of assisted deaths are reported.

So does legalizing the so-called right to die provide any assurance that anyone will die “on our own terms?” Not likely.

Instead, if legalized, the individual right to die will have huge implications on my (and everyone else’s) right to live.

Don’t be fooled — euthanasia has nothing to do with “my individual choice” or “my right to die.” It’s a very slippery slope that affects all members of society.

9 comments:

Kerry Corboy, M.D. said...

I have always said, "To preserve the sanctity of one man's life is to insure the existence of one's own". Nowhere is that clearer than in the case of 'mercy killing'

Winston said...

The right to die (which is a necessary corollary of the right to live, since right are optional by definition) only "affects" sanctimonious busybodies with nothing better to do.

Winston said...

Kerry - how does giving people control over the time, place and manner of one's one death affect anyone else (assuming that all assistance is voluntary, of course).

This blog post makes as much sense as saying "Your right to walk on the road affects my right to drive."

Kerry Corboy, M.D. said...

Winston, unfortunately I do not think you understand the post or the article it applies to. Please reread the article and the post. Perhaps you could rephrase your statement.

Winston said...

Kerry - I think I understand it quite thoroughly.

Susan thinks she will be forced or encouraged to choose assisted suicide. There are already laws in place at present to prevent this.

There are also quite a few thinly veiled phrases in favour of slavery, as anything less than self-ownership is, by definition, slavery.

Kerry Corboy, M.D. said...

Winston - thank you for continuing the dialogue. I hear and appreciate your perspective. As for laws in place "preventing this", they do not exist. Which laws are you referring to? The fact that two physicians and a psychiatrist deem that an individual is not making the request because he or she is not "medically depressed" and is not being coerced by caregivers is by no means an enforceable law and is in no way infallible.

Rights by definintion are bestowed upon us. My right to walk on the road definately and in all manner affects your right to drive and vice versa. When, where, and how you drive as well as with whom and what you drive are all influenced by my right to walk on the road. If you lived in a vacuum i.e. if you lived on a planet where only you, the road, and your vehicle existed, then your right would be totally independent of my rights. We don't live in a vacuum. Rights are bestowed and carried out within the confines of laws. The argument you posed in favor of mercy killing is nonsensical and superficial.

Your "right" to have been born is nonexistant as is your "right" to choose the time, place and manner of your death. There is no human right to either control the timing of ones birth or death. If an unnatural right to control the time of death is bestowed upon society by a law, it will by definition affect those who will face death, and that includes EVERYONE.

As a physician, I aim to uphold the Hippocratic Oath and follow the maxim of "Proprio No Nocerum" (first do no harm). I have spent the last 30+ years in one capacity or another at the bedside of the chronically ill and dying and their families (from the 24wk premie to the 4 year old with terminal cancer to the 40 year old bedbound with ALS to the 105 year old with you name it). Physical, psychological and spiritual symptoms can be assuaged most of the time. Requests for hastening death most often occur because of FEARS of being a burden, fears of uncontrolled symptoms, and existential concerns. This fact is supported by research. Palliative Medicine aims to address these problems as well as the symptoms associated with medical conditions.

The argument, "its my body, its my choice" and "anything less is slavery" are comical. This argument amazes me, it is always, "I, I, I, me, me, me." Its never, "how can I make people that are in that much distress facing their deaths have a better experience and die with more dignity and compassion". Have you ever heard, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or "what goes around comes around"? That is a rhetorical question as I am certain that you have. REQUESTS FOR PAS AND EUTHANASIA ARE OFTEN CRIES FOR HELP AND SIGNS TO THE ASTUTE CLINICIAN THAT THERE ARE OTHER ISSUES THAT HAVE NOT BEEN ADDRESSED. To address such requests with the answer of murder is both cowardly and short-sighted. I know I have a little more than that in my little black bag of tricks.



Winston said...

Kerry - there are laws against coercion and counseling/encouraging suicide. Why aren't they enough?

When dealing with rights, compromises are necessary to ensure that everyone can do what they will, provided they do not harm people without informed consent.

Your third paragraph reinforces your pro-slavery position. Congrats; you've made Al-Qaeda look compassionate. Even in Stalin's gulags, his victims did not have to die naturally.

The Hippocratic Oath was outdated the day it was written. It was misogynistic and uncompassionate towards people suffering at life's end. Do you really think forcing people to suffer against their will is anything but "causing harm"?

Palliative medicine cannot relieve existential or profound psychological suffering without terminal sedation. This is a FACT, undisputed even by palliative care organisations.

Assisted dying is not murder in the same way that consensual lovemaking is not rape. Furthermore, you are projecting your own cruelty and callousness onto your opposition by accusing them of selfishness. Get real.

If I was suffering like Tony Nicklinson, I would hope someone would be courageous and compassionate enough to help me die.

Kerry Corboy, MD said...

Winston,

For the second time, what laws are you referring to? Rights are not compromised to prevent harm. The only people who compromise rights are politicians and hippies. Laws are enacted to prevent people from harming others while they are exercising those rights. By your reasoning, you posit it is acceptable to harm someone granted they have "given their consent". Furthermore, your statement that "consensual lovemaking is not rape", shows how little you understand the human condition. There are many examples where consensual lovemaking IS rape.

The Hippocratic Oath was not outdated the day it was written. Can you support your statement that it was misogynistic and uncompassionate towards the dying? Please reference the passage in the Oath you are referring to. Instead of appearing to be full of hot wind, please back your statements up so we can all learn. And yes Winston, forcing people to suffer does cause harm. That is why the field of Palliative Medicine was started.

As for terminal sedation, name one well-regarded professional Palliative Care organization that states it is impossible to relieve existential or profound psychological suffering without terminal sedation. For those with knowlege of end-of-life care, palliative sedation is a "hotly debated topic" and by no means widely acccepted or practiced especially in cases of existential suffering.

The final statement you make completely supports the final statement I made in my last post. You haven't a clue what you will want when you look into the grim reapers eyes, as I am sure you have never really done so. Ostriches don't usually look anyone in the face.

Finally Winston, the purpose of these blogs is to educate, not to spew unfounded misinformation about the given topic to the public to serve your own internal "demons". Do yourself a service and get your "facts" straight if you wish to look credible in they eyes of those who have more than a rudimentary understanding of a topic. Anyone can do a literature search on the internet and scan articles to get a "feel for a topic".

Good luck to you Winston. I am sure you will find what you need.

Winston said...

Thank you for replying, Kerry.

(For the second time, what laws are you referring to? Rights are not compromised to prevent harm.)

The laws against assisted suicide. As Sue Rodriguez powerfully illustrated, when such draconian laws are in place, people in her position are given a "choice" of sorts - commit suicide while physically able, or request the aid of a loved one down the road, which could land them in prison for decades.

(The only people who compromise rights are politicians and hippies.)

Really? Hippies wanted to oppress people? That's a new one on me.

(Laws are enacted to prevent people from harming others while they are exercising those rights. By your reasoning, you posit it is acceptable to harm someone granted they have "given their consent".)

Correct. Consent is an ABSOLUTE DEFENSE in most modern nations today, especially when it comes to surgery and contact sports. For your position to be consistent, you would have to advocate the criminalisaton of boxing, rugby and ice hockey.

(Furthermore, your statement that "consensual lovemaking is not rape", shows how little you understand the human condition. There are many examples where consensual lovemaking IS rape.)

I hope you're not referring to animals and child rape, because they cannot consent, by definition.

An addendum - is masturbation self-rape if conducted before age 18?

(The Hippocratic Oath was not outdated the day it was written. Can you support your statement that it was misogynistic and uncompassionate towards the dying? Please reference the passage in the Oath you are referring to. Instead of appearing to be full of hot wind, please back your statements up so we can all learn.)

Are you unaware that the oath prohibited women from practicing medicine? In a time without modern analgesics, yes, denying someone access to hemlock IS HEARTLESS and CRUEL.

(And yes Winston, forcing people to suffer does cause harm. That is why the field of Palliative Medicine was started.)

It is still a long way from perfection, even by their own admission. Even if it could relieve all suffering without resorting to terminal sedation, some will still decline it in favour of assisted dying.

(As for terminal sedation, name one well-regarded professional Palliative Care organization that states it is impossible to relieve existential or profound psychological suffering without terminal sedation. For those with knowlege of end-of-life care, palliative sedation is a "hotly debated topic" and by no means widely acccepted or practiced especially in cases of existential suffering.)

So you support slow euthanasia, I see. When someone is in a coma until death, they are, for all moral considerations, dead. Personally, I would rather die in an instant than over three weeks, and I am far from alone.

(The final statement you make completely supports the final statement I made in my last post. You haven't a clue what you will want when you look into the grim reapers eyes, as I am sure you have never really done so. Ostriches don't usually look anyone in the face.)

Have you ever been suicidal? I have, and the arrogant, know-it-all, "just suck it up" attitude of the anti-choice crowd made me more suicidal, not less.

(Finally Winston, the purpose of these blogs is to educate, not to spew unfounded misinformation about the given topic to the public to serve your own internal "demons".)

Projecting your own faults onto me, I see.

(Do yourself a service and get your "facts" straight if you wish to look credible in they eyes of those who have more than a rudimentary understanding of a topic. Anyone can do a literature search on the internet and scan articles to get a "feel for a topic".)

If you say so. I'm glad that your camp has never won a public debate (aka poll) on this issue.

(Good luck to you Winston. I am sure you will find what you need.)

I hope you will understand true compassion one day. If I wanted someone to "suffer with" me, I'd join a monastery.

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