Monday, February 11, 2019

Euthanasia: When the Means Justify the Ends

This article was published by Vivre dans la Dignite on Februray 7, 2019

In January, the court hearings began for two Quebec people living with disabilities who are contesting the Federal and Provincial law requiring people to be “at the end of life” or for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” in order to be admissible for euthanasia. In other words, the two plaintiffs are asking for the state to provide them with a doctor who will help them to commit suicide, by euthanasia, even if they are not dying. And since the first day of the hearings, it seems like, for the media at least, the question is already resolved: we simply must allow these two people to commit suicide by lethal injection because they consider their life miserable.

This verdict has been handed down by the media with the full force of the means at its disposal and with seemingly no right of appeal, without even needing to wait for what will be said, neither during the 32 hearing days remaining nor during the six months to analyse the evidence that will be presented in court by various experts.

This is how things work when it comes to euthanasia…

While no one remains unmoved by the stories of Mrs. Gladu and Mr. Truchon’s suffering, it is nonetheless obvious that it would be detrimental for our society to stick to a two-dimensional portrait – as it is naïve in the extreme to reduce the debate around euthanasia to a question of personal choice.

Whatever the most fervent promoters of euthanasia-on-demand say, what is at stake in the current hearings is the very issue of how our society treats and values old people, sick people and those living with a disability.

Indeed, the result of this hearing will determine whether our society will guarantee suicide by euthanasia for people who are not dying but who nonetheless wish to die because they are suffering due to physical or mental limitations which they feel to be inhibiting their autonomy or their quality of life.

At this point, it is essential to understand the reality of the notion of disability: every person with any mental or physical incapacity meets this criterion. So although the image of someone confined to a wheelchair certainly evokes our sympathy and is often used, it is not representative since it excludes the incalculable number of people who meet the same criteria – for example, someone born blind or blinded in an accident, someone with Parkinson’s, or anyone who is old and sick and has difficulty moving around without some sort of assistance.

What is more, the prevailing reasoning among those who promote further extensions to euthanasia rests on a logic that can only end with death-on-demand. According to them, since no one else can effectively judge another person’s suffering – which is true enough – we can’t refuse death to anyone who makes a “considered” request. However, this logic, pushed into his undeclared entrenchments, constitutes in reality a plea in favor of suicide itself, presented as if it was somehow honourable when put in a medical context.

In this context, we no longer flinch in the face of such intense media coverage in favour of suicide by euthanasia for the disabled; we see mounting political pressure, without questioning it, to allow euthanasia for people who have dementia – and are thus unable to consent at the moment they are put to death; and we learn, as if it was a standard procedure, that the largest children hospital in Canada is already working on protocols for when children too will have recourse to suicide by lethal injection – probably, it has been suggested, without needing the consent or awareness of their parents.

Added to these multiple attempts to sweep aside any and all restrictive criteria to a controversial law barely three years old, comes a new “study” from the University of Montreal pleading in favour of euthanasia for people with a mental illness – in other words, people suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis or schizophrenia – coming to the conclusion that “certain suicides can be considered as rational”.

With each new extension to the law, we hear applause from the same people who reassure us each time with their "strict criteria"” and their “robust safeguards”. And to justify each step down the slope, they always sing the same hymn: “If someone wants to die because they are suffering… who are we to refuse them? After all, it’s their choice!”

But don’t worry: the “slippery slope”, they tell us, is simple scaremongering invented by those who oppose euthanasia.

Nevertheless, as soon as we escape from this prism of personal suffering which can take our reason captive, we can quickly recognize that extending euthanasia to people who are not at the end of their life seriously puts at risk the dignity and protection of those who have become vulnerable through old age, illness of disability. It will also – inevitably – compromise our efforts to prevent suicide.

Indeed, only three years after the legalization of euthanasia in Quebec (under the guise of medical care), public discourse seems to completely devalue the old, the sick and the disabled, presenting disability and loss of autonomy and/or quality of life as such indignities that death can legitimately be preferable to them.

According to this rhetoric, death by euthanasia would constitute a logical choice that would be largely “accepted” and “shared” by society at large. In other words, it seems that everyone agrees that old age and life with a disability are just misery and unbefitting our modern notion of human dignity.

Following this path, we will end up in Canada with what is already happening in Europe: sooner or later, we will discuss seriously the possibility of allowing euthanasia for those who are simply “tired of living”.

Is it really the way we want to look, individually and collectively, at our seniors and at all people living with disabilities? Is it normal that our most natural and compassionate response towards someone who is suffering is to push them off the bridge or help them tie the knot in the rope they contemplate hanging themselves with?

No, obviously not, I hope.

In fact, if we replaced a medically-administered lethal injection by a cruder means of killing, we would not even have this discussion at all because the real nature of the act would be so evident as to wake us up from our euphemism-induced stupor.

Are you looking for different way to leave this world of without suffering? How about a quick dose of a muscle-relaxant followed by the guillotine... It would be even faster than a lethal injection… Although it surely wouldn’t be long before we were accused of barbarism.

Paradoxically, the means chosen to deliver “medical assistance in dying” is in every respect the same as used – though not without controversy – for executions in the United States.

Why is the second denounced as cruel, but the first described as “noble, humane and modern”? It is a matter of personal choice, or so it appears.

To avoid such a catastrophic failure for our society, each one of us has a responsibility to be attentive to those around us who are vulnerable, and to be available to accompany them, support them and make room for them in our lives and in society. For the good of everyone, suicide by euthanasia must never become an answer to life’s sufferings.

Even if the bridge or the rope is in the form of a lethal injection.

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