Monday, March 10, 2014

Québec's euthanasia bill 52: a time for reflection.

The following article was written by Catherine Frazee and published on March 4, 2014 as a special to the Montréal Gazette. Catherine Frazee is a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, an emeritus professor in the school of  disability studies at Ryerson University and an intellectual giant of our time.

Catherine Frazee
By Catherine Frazee

With Quebec’s Bill 52 now stuck in legislative limbo because of an election call, perhaps there is time for us to listen closely to the overtones that are lingering from so much talk of “aid in dying.”

Resonating darkly from the fading debate is one idea about dying — not the only idea, but one that has gripped us firmly. It is the idea of dying as relentless decline, a ruthless assault upon the selves we once were. In the shadow of this idea, greater fear is provoked by dying than by death itself. Little wonder that “aid in dying” offers to forgo the dying process, advancing directly to death.

Perhaps we have chosen this particular idea about dying because of certain “habits of the heart” — certain reflexive assumptions about dignity and autonomy. And perhaps those convictions warrant an honest reconsideration.

Is human dignity truly bound up with the mechanics of personal hygiene? Or is dignity more about the intricate chemistry of how we are held in care and regard by those who stand near?

Is autonomy really the blunt “carte blanche” of individual will? Or is it the pulsing engine of the warrior’s heart, hell-bent on its defence of a vital, expressive, even if diminishing, self?

The alternative idea of dignity and autonomy is what people with long-standing disabilities can be heard saying, if and when courts and media pause to listen.

The debilitations of disability, shame and stigma are layered like paint upon the canvases of our lives. Unlike the chorus of esteem that elevates certain embodied states, however frightful — birthing comes to mind — a drone of pity and repugnance compels a retreat from disability.

Yet Canadians with disabilities hold fast to an account of our lives as utterly dignified and richly interdependent. From the largest and most representative organizations giving political voice to disabled citizens and our families have come persistent and dire warnings that when we permit in the name of dignity the killing of some persons, we set in motion an irreversible unravelling of our delicate social fabric.

This caution — all but muffled by the trumpeting of an age of assisted death — must be accorded a fairer and more fulsome hearing. For as long as our moral impulses equate incapacity with indignity, there is no opening for a true embrace of disability. And if we cannot embrace disability, we will flee the disablements of dying by any means, invoking the language of rights to justify the termination of life.

Heaven help us if the most critical moral issue of our generation is to be decided on the footings of a thin logic of fear.

It is natural to fear dying, just as it is natural to fear birthing. Fear is not the problem. But when fear goes public, when the fear of one is taken up by the many, the result is a righteous denouncement of that which threatens us.

We have seen the cycle played out to a horrific end far too often.

We who inhabit bodies that cannot move, swallow, bathe or speak at will may or may not be individually endangered by formulations of “aid in dying,” such as those encoded in Quebec’s Bill 52. But regardless of our place in hierarchies of privilege, we will all, without fail, feel the blunt trauma of further denouncement.

Denouncement’s polar opposite is solidarity. When we choose to respond to dying with steady, compassionate attention, when we embrace the fearful but not the fear, we overcome our primal instincts of fight or flight. In this embrace of the frailties and the possibilities in ourselves, and in others, we rise to solidarity.

That is what we learned to do in relation to childbirth. Somehow, by the power of how we value and understand birthing, women find within themselves a conviction that trounces fear. Perhaps, just as we join with midwives in our embrace of birthing, we can join with palliative medicine to embrace dying in ways that engender courage, respect, even awe.

Along the way, we may find ourselves ready for a radical reimagining of equality that better accords with the fragility of embodied human life.

Catherine Frazee is a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She lives in Canning, N.S.

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Rob Jonquière, Amsterdam said...

Catherine Frazee rightfully suggests to use “the time Quebec’s Bill 52 is stuck in legislative limbo” to carefully re-listen to all arguments. But – I would add - with an objective ear. Unfortunately she forgets (?) to refer also to the - possible most important criteria of Bill 52 - legal requirement of an explicit and well-considered, voluntary request, before “aid in dying” complies with Bill 52. And she also carefully avoids to explicate that “dignity” and “autonomy” in the scope of Bill 52 (and for that in all known legislations around the world!) must be defined from a – subjective – personal point of view: what I consider as “dignified” might well be different from what Catherine Frazee finds.
These points added to an inborn loathing with any doctor for termination the life of one of his patients, have shown to be the major reason for the careful implementation of the Dutch Law since its start in 2002. After 20 years of “tolerated” practice and over 12 years of “legalized” practice there is no sign in the Dutch general population for mrs Farzee’s feared societal detriment.
Rob Jonquière, MD; Amsterdam, NL

Ironsides said...

When I just came across this article after lunch, I went: "wow! She just really made my day".

I've been going through a decline in my personal situation, and am not able to keep a pace I did ten years ago.

This article by Catherine Frazee, was a welcome read; and I can definitely say that your comment has left my stomach curdling.

As I read your comment a second time, the fact that you are from Holland says enough. Although I have learned that many people there oppose euthanasia, you comfort seem as if yourself defending the Netherlands position.

Rather than reading Miss Frazee's article with an open mind, you attacked the article to find every fault you perceive in your mind, to be a fault.

You carefully explain the safe-guards in the law, but all the campaigns have been the same. They are overloaded with safe-guards, the same safe-guards which were never intended on being enforced.

As long as propagandists continue to deny what they have gotten away with, there is plenty to fear. It does not just stop at doctors.

There are long-term care facilities, where nurses and assistants abuse people with disabilities and senior-citizens, psychologically, emotionally and ignore call-bells.

When and where conditions like this exist, it only maintains an environment where targeted residents will be pushed to accept euthanasia/assisted-suicide.

The example you give here, is to keep a lid on it.--And make Catherine Frazee feel guilty, how she wrote the article. The effect it has on me, is that I see a cold, calloused man, who is attacking someone who just published what needs to be said.

If you were the least bit open-minded, when you read the article, you would have considered what was said, as well as what the priorities should be, regarding euthanasia.

This article could be a real step, toward changing the way citizens think and feel about social-integration of our minority, instead of segregation and eventual extermination.

A social change in people's values from quality-of-life to equal-human beings, could have a big change in people who work in long-term care institutions, and home-care workers.

People in palliative-care, would not be just treated like body-bags almost ready to haul away. If it was not for the few decent people who do work in these places, both nurses and assistants, we all would have been in our graves by now.

Less than a year ago, I was voice-conferencing with a guy I used to conference with during the 1990's. He is in Quebec.

When we got to talking about what we have done since then, it brought us to Quebec's Bill-52. After I explained a few details, he refused to believe it.

Several times he assured me, that he did not want it for himself.--Just for those who want it. He refused to believe the track-history in Holland, Belgium and Oregon.

So I asked him about me, and all of us baby-boomers in our late 50's-60's, who were born with birth-defects. I said that now, when an unborn baby is detected to be birth-defective, they are automatically aborted.--"Do you agree with that?". His response was, "yes".

To clarify his answer I asked, 'does that mean that me and all the baby-boomers who have grown up disabled, should have never been allowed to be born and live our lives?'--He said, "yes".

That spells out loud and clear, how dangerous euthanasia is, anywhere in the world.