Friday, April 26, 2013

Assisted Suicide

A 72 year old Canadian woman, Susan Griffiths, died yesterday in Switzerland because she couldn't have someone help her commit suicide in Canada. She advocated for the legalization of assisted suicide before her death and I am sure that her death will stir up the debate once again.
The Manitoba woman had been suffering for the last two years from a disease called multiple system atrophy, a degenerative and fatal condition with symptoms similar to Parkinson's. Griffiths was losing her ability to control her movements and her bodily functions and was in constant pain.
 In interviews before her death with a number of media outlets, she said she hated the pain and dreaded the prospect of becoming completely dependent on others while she slowly died. 
 Though suicide is not illegal in Canada, helping someone to bring about their own death is. So Griffiths enlisted the help of Dignitas, a non-profit group in Switzerland that offers end-of-life assistance to the terminally ill.

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Pro-lifers warned of the slippery slope from abortion to euthanasia years ago. You don't hear much about it now, because the slope is now so obvious.

People have managed to commit suicide in all ages; enlisting the aid of a doctor really isn't necessary. What advocating for doctor-assisted suicide does is seeking to validate one's decision and conferring approval on that act.

This reminds me of the statement that so many make: If you don't approve of abortion, don't have one. But what they leave out, or haven't bothered to think about, is that legislated abortion affects us all in ways not imagined prior to the law. Now, a woman cannot really trust her doctor anymore to be supportive of her pregnancy in all circumstances. I have heard so many young women say that, when they went for a pre-natal appointment, they were offered pre-natal testing (even to one woman who was 23 and having a healthy pregnancy) and one woman was offered  "selective reduction" when her doctor learned that she was having twins and already had one child. "You only want two children, don't you?" is what she was asked.

Not all doctors will refer for abortion, but there are very few who will actually say they won't. Those who do stand on their principles are to be lauded, but they are not making their beliefs public as they once used to. If they do, they are marginalized by the rest of the medical profession.

Imagine if we were to have legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide? Could you really trust your doctor to fight for your life if you were facing a bad prognosis and perhaps a lot of pain and suffering? It would become all too easy to offer the patient an easy way out. After all, it would reduce the burden that the family would have to bear, which is the real crunch when people are facing a drawn-out death. No one wants to burden their children or siblings. Add to that the pressure from a state that is increasingly facing health costs that it can't sustain, and the pressure to end one's life will be immense.

"Hard cases make bad laws", I once heard a member of parliament say. And that is certainly true in the assisted-suicide debate. Change the laws for the sake of a few vocal people who want help to kill themselves, and the unintended consequences will be enormous. So few people bother to think past their own little life; what matters to them is only what will they do when the time comes, how do they deal with brother Harry who has lung cancer, how can they care for aging mother with dementia who refuses to enter a care facility? 

We seem to want to take the easy route on all the hard questions. We have become a very soft generation, unable to do much for each other that calls for anything difficult. No wonder people are showing that they don't even have the guts to do themselves in.

Oddly enough, I googled slang words for suicide and found a website that lists prison slang for common phrases. To commit suicide is called "doing the Dutch" - given the way Holland has led in this area, I guess even inmates recognize this. Not really something to be proud of.

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