Wednesday, October 30, 2013

George Jonas: "It seems evident that passing legislation to expressly permit killing on request opens a door that should remain firmly locked."

The following article is an excerpt of an article written by George Jonas and published in the National Post on October 25, 2013 under the title: The rock outside your window.


George Jonas
When my father was nearing 90, he started slowing down. Sometimes he barely stirred from his big leather armchair. Visiting him one day, I found him standing, leaning heavily on his cane, reluctant to take that first step with which a journey of a thousand miles must begin, according to Mao Zedong.

“What would you like, Dad?’’ I asked him. “I’ll get it for you.”

“Ha!” Father’s reply was an exclamation of dry mirth. “If I knew what I wanted, I’d get it myself.”

This was cocky but not quite accurate. Although the deterioration of father’s memory came first, his body didn’t take long to catch up. Remembering what he wanted was no guarantee that it would show up in his hand.

My mother loved my father, as did I, but my love was cost-free and my mother’s wasn’t. That was because I wasn’t looking after him, except financially, which is piffle, but my mother had to so physically, which is anything but. Looking after old people is hard work, and when I first saw my mother about a year after my father’s passing, she looked 10 years younger.

“The love of your life passes away, and you look 10 years younger,” I said to her, partly to compliment her and partly to pull her leg. “What kind of a woman are you”

“Love has nothing to do with it, dear,” she explained. “Sleep does. After your father passed away I could sleep through the night for the first time in years.”

Sleep deprivation is, of course, torture. Interrogators do it to enemy agents, and the rest of us do it to loved ones when we are old and sick. Some of us may add insult to injury and complain to the people we deprive of sleep about being old and useless and wanting to die.

"He’d wake up,’ the woman said bitterly, ‘complain about us not letting him die, then go back to sleep, as if nothing happened, the bastard’"
Father never did that, my mother said, but there was one woman at the hospital whose husband was going on about wanting to die all the time. “He’d wake up,” the woman said bitterly, “complain about us not letting him die, then go back to sleep, as if nothing happened, the bastard.

“By then, I hadn’t slept for five days,” the woman said. “Boy, was I ever tempted.”

This illustrates why assisted suicide is such a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s arbitrary, arrogant, cruel, indeed sadistic, to deny a suffering human being a peaceful exit when one is so easily available; and on the other hand, there’s the risk (I’d say, the near-certainty) that without an outright, no-exceptions, absolute, flat ban on euthanasia of any kind for any reason, sick and helpless people will be put to sleep, not because it is their carefully considered individual choice, but because it assures a better allocation of available sleep resources throughout the community — or some such nebulous reason of social engineering cooked up by medical-ethicists.

To me, it seems evident that passing legislation to expressly permit homicide on request, which is what assisted suicide would be, opens a door that should remain firmly locked. The minute a society endorses a category of permissible homicide for humanitarian reasons, the quasi-007 licenses issued will bear only a faint resemblance to the legislation’s original purpose.

"As long as we don’t give the state a license to kill us but retain our natural license to die, we haven’t surrendered all authority over our lives."
It couldn’t have escaped anyone’s notice, however, that unofficial euthanasia is widely practiced in most civilized countries. Under the guise of pain management and other palliative practices, caring physicians and family members have long reached a tacit understanding on the quiet provision of end-of-life services to patients and loved ones.

This isn’t the perfect solution, or even a good one, but it’s time-honoured and better than the alternatives proposed. As long as we don’t give the state a license to kill us but retain our natural license to die, we haven’t surrendered all authority over our lives.

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