Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book Review - The Final Choice: End of Life Suffering: Is Assisted Dying the Answer?

Reviewed by Adrian Rhodes

The book: The Final Choice: End of Life Suffering: Is Assisted Dying the Answer? written by Caralise Trayes and published by Capture & Tell Media, 2020, New Zealand.

This book is a nonfiction work, written by a journalist who is exploring the issue of euthanasia in a series of thematically linked essays. People against euthanasia will find information to use against proponents. People for euthanasia will like this book.

There are two cases presented in the first two chapters; in one case, the person was in favour of euthanasia but changed her mind. In the second case, the person was in favour of euthanasia and campaigned to legalise the practise, but died before this could happen.

The third essay outlines a meeting where a politician – the same one who wrote the euthanasia law in New Zealand – appears at a euthanasia society meeting. He says, in one passage, “I am right and they are wrong…” speaking of people against euthanasia.

That statement summarizes the entitled attitude of anyone I’ve met who campaigns in favour of euthanasia. Notice: there is no room for discussion; the statement as quoted does not include palliative care, hospice or alternatives. Death and that’s the only action offered.

There is another part of this politician’s speech where he encourages people to get bumper stickers for their cars and adds, “…Don’t worry about putting a sticker on your car – I have my face and name plastered over mine and it never gets damaged…” While this is a jest, according to the context, consider the implication: people who are opposed to euthanasia will think nothing of damaging a car to make a political point. Remember, he’s right and people opposed are wrong, without qualification.

Considering I have had four people online wish me a terminal, painful illness so I will “…change my mind…” on the issue, it’s clear that he is not joking. Yes, that might be a stretch, but once more, the statement encapsulates the attitude of people willing to kill the vulnerable.

There is a politician quoted as saying “75 percent of New Zealanders who watched their loved ones die, often badly, feel they need more choice and control.” (36) Look at this quote: “…watched their loved ones die…” removes the action from the person involved and puts the choice in the hands of observers. “…often badly…” so a smaller percentage of the 75 percent have seen people die this way: how often? We don’t know. “…feel…” The people observing feel that the right thing to do is kill the observed. “…more choice and control?…” 

At risk of belabouring the point, whose choice? And why control? The observer is obviously the focal point of this statement, so it’s the observer’s control, not the person suffering. In a very short quote, this parliamentarian gave the game away. It’s got nothing to do with the person dying, it’s about the observer controlling the death.

The essays are peppered with commentaries like this, and the book therefore rewards a close reading. If you skip over details, you will miss cues. The organization of the book moves from legislation, to opponents, to lawmakers in an organized fashion. Yet there are little clues here and there that the person writing this book is not against the practice.

So read this book as a contemporary snap-shot of the issues within the action of euthanasia. Read it carefully, since the writing can come across as subtle. Personally, I saw the same ideas and ideologies presented as in other books showing euthanasia as a socially virtuous act; this is why I suggest caution in the reading of it.

The subtitle: Is Assisted Dying the Answer? Can be answered with a ‘no’, since we see the problems the practice has created in Canada, and in other parts of the world. Is caring or killing the solution?

Having said this, the book is clear, concise and a good introduction to the issues. But it’s an introduction: the defense of life is more complex than this book would have you believe and requires a more cautious consideration than the ease of its reading would otherwise suggest.

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