By now it should be clear what assisted suicide is not about. It is not about the right of mentally competent adults to end their own lives, or to refuse treatment that might save it: that right has long existed, and is not in question.
Indeed, it is not about mentally competent adults, suffering unendurable pain at the end of their lives, at all. That may be how most people imagine the issue, and may be how it is still justified by those who have not been paying attention. It may even be, for now, the limits set out in Bill C-14, federal legislation authorizing “medical assistance in dying.”Coyne comments on the political turmoil related to Bill C-14.
But it is equally clear this is just the start. What once was the furthest limits of the imaginable, something permitted in only a few other countries on Earth, is now the baseline. The senators who, armed with a democratic mandate from exactly no one, are vowing to delay or defeat the bill are not doing so because it goes too far: because, say, it does not require the patient’s consent in all cases, but allows another adult to sign on their behalf; or because the 15-day waiting period is optional, at the doctor’s discretion; or because it does not require that death be imminent and inevitable, but only that it be “reasonably foreseeable.”
No, the reason the bill is under fire is because, in the view of its critics, it does not go nearly far enough: specifically, because it does not allow for the termination of children, the mentally ill and those who book their demise in advance, in fear of finding themselves unable to consent at the time. Even worse, the bill would still require that death be somewhere in the offing, however vaguely: physical or psychological suffering on its own would not be sufficient. This was not a stipulation of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, which has lately become Holy Writ, or at least the parts that do not mention competent adults.Coyne uncovers that the government intends to expand euthanasia over time.
For its part, the government gives every indication of being amenable to these changes. Asked on CTV how the government could have brought in “such a conservative” bill, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould replied, in effect, give us time. At which point it will become even more clear this is not about “end-of-life care” or “dying with dignity” or “assistance in dying,” or any of the other pleasant euphemisms in which the issue is now swaddled. It is not about easing the pain of dying, but easing the pain of living. It is about helping people to kill themselves who are not in any danger of dying, but find their lives, for a variety of reasons, intolerable.
Again, this is explicit among its advocates. For the writer Sandra Martin, for example, author of The Good Death, “I might want to say if I can no longer speak, if I no longer can recognize my family, if I can no longer take care of my own bodily functions — then it would be unacceptable for me to carry on living.” Others have argued that it should apply to those suffering from depression. In Belgium, as Rachel Aviv writes in The New Yorker, doctors have been authorized to kill not just in cases of depression, but also “autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindess coupled with deafness, and manic depression.”Coyne then opens the question - does assisted suicide effect our attitudes towards suicide?
Very well. Suppose we legalized assisted suicide in all the ways demanded. Suppose we were then presented with children, suffering from a mental illness — severely depressed, perhaps — but non-terminal, who expressed a strong desire to kill themselves. Suppose, that is, we were dealing with the situation reported in Attawapiskat today. On what basis would we deny them their request?
That has been the convention to date. We do not accommodate people, let alone children, who want to kill themselves. We try to stop them, by force if necessary, a desire to kill oneself having been seen until now as prima facie evidence of mental incapacity. You see a guy standing on a ledge, you pull him in. But assisted suicide asks us to invert that convention: not merely to allow the suicide to proceed, but to facilitate it, indeed to subsidize it. Doctors who refuse to provide this “service,” or at the least to refer patients who request it to others, may face disciplinary action.
This is what it means to normalize suicide. While the preamble to Bill C-14 takes pains to affirm the “inherent and equal value of every person’s life” and expresses a desire to avoid “encouraging negative perceptions of the quality of life of persons who are elderly, ill or disabled,” that is the unmistakable message we would be sending: some lives are not worth living. Suicide prevention advocates, likewise, are adamant that suicide not be presented as a rational alternative to suffering. Yet that is exactly what we would be doing.Coyne finishes by explaining how assisted suicide makes us complicit in another's death.
We seem powerless, nevertheless, to resist. Arguments for assisted suicide are couched in the language of personal autonomy, of the inviolable rights of the individual. But if it were only a matter of an individual wishing to take his own life, there would be no debate. The difference between assisted suicide and suicide is the involvement of another individual, or individuals, and so far as we permit their involvement it implicates us all.
Do we not see what a fundamental change is entailed — not merely in our attitudes to death but to life? Perhaps this is a step we wish to take, as a society. But we are just as entitled to decide not to.