I attended the panel on doctor-assisted suicide last evening. The panelists included Wanda Morris, an activist in this issue and director of Dying with Dignity, a woman with cerebral palsy who was against assisted suicide, a woman who represented the Shambala Buddhist community of Halifax, Larry Worthen a Catholic deacon and lawyer who is the executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, and Jocelyn Downie a lawyer and professor at Dalhousie University who has a case all ready for the Supreme Court of Canada to argue for assisted suicide. I have heard that she is waiting for the perfect client, supposedly a woman with ALS. Sorry, there was no listing of the names of the panelists so I can only trust my memory for those I recall.
Needless to say, Wanda Morris and Jocelyn Downie were very articulate in putting forth their arguments for legalizing assisted suicide. The woman with CP and Larry Worthen called on faith arguments to support their position of not legalizing assisted suicide. The surprise panelist for me was the Buddhist who actually appeared the most compassionate of all the panelists. If you could take her words of "transformation" and "karma" and give them the Christian equivalent language, she was arguing in a very similar way to the Christians on the panel. For her, suffering had meaning because it brought transformation in the individual and no one should interfere with the course of another's life because it all has a meaning for the future. And the doctor who participates in assisting someone to die will find his own "karma" damaged by the interference. Put those words into Christian language, and we find common ground with the Buddhists on this issue.
The impression that I was left with was that the issue is divided sharply along the lines of whether one has a belief in the after-life or not. For those who don't, this life is the only thing that is of importance and personal autonomy reigns supreme. There is no sense of any suffering being endured for a higher purpose; suffering is to be eliminated as quickly and easily as possible, because it is purely negative and has no beneficial effect upon one's life.
Even though I am on the faith-based side in this issue, I do think that faith-based arguments should not be used in public forums such as this. One can attest to the fact that one's faith is the basis for a position, but that is never going to convince anyone who does not share that faith. What is needed is a good argument based on natural law. I am sure that there must be one and, from my own scant reading on this topic, I would recommend Wesley Smith an ethicist who writes about euthanasia and assisted suicide prolifically. Surely an argument that assisted suicide puts doctors into the conflicted position of being both healer and the dealer of death is one such argument. I heard no mention of this on Friday night. It seems to me that this is a crucial element of this debate.
What disturbed me was the way that Jocelyn Downie can work a crowd with her words. Every speaker received applause after they spoke, but there was no question that Downie got more applause than the others. She even cracked a joke about "this being the gospel truth" and then she looked up at the ceiling and that brought laughter since the panel was being held in a church. Subtle mockery, but mockery all the same. Her barb was not lost on the audience.
I have heard Downie speak before and recognize that she is extremely articulate, well prepared, and as committed to her viewpoint as is an ardent Christian. It struck me that this is the kind of person who moves legislation in our country, she can convince a crowd of the "rightness" of her position, and she is calmly ready to face down any opposite point of view.
It is troubling. I am sure that this issue will go the same way as abortion. Those who want doctor-assisted suicide will convince the majority of Canadians (or least the legislators who will pass the law) that this is a necessary choice for people who cannot bear their suffering. It will be seen as a choice in health care that it is only right to have available for those who want it. People who think like this cannot see that their obtaining such legislation actually shows how intolerant they are to those who see this as harmful in many ways.
Larry Worthen, in speaking of Bill 52 in Quebec, said that this bill is not about adding a choice to health care; it is actually a turning of health care on its head. The bill, once passed, would not allow any hospital to refuse to offer assisted suicide to its patients, thus pushing medical personnel into the corner just as they are being pushed in our neighbour to the south.
The subject of "safeguards" was raised and assurances given that, if assisted suicide was legalized, there would be safeguards to ensure that the law was not abused. The disabled woman with CP stated that, in the Netherlands, such safeguards can't be trusted to the point that seniors now carry cards with them that say "do not euthanize me" should they be taken to hospital. Upon reflection later that evening, it struck me that people who push for progressive changes to laws such as this one are idealists without a real sense of reality. They seem to believe that all people are on the same moral high ground that they think they are on, and they discount the reality that people simply do not behave as you hope they will do. Who is going to determine what safeguards there should be and, more importantly, who is going to determine who has the right to determine such safeguards? Like so many liberal thinkers, they are caught in a web of ideology without the acknowledgement that people are weak and don't do what is right. Unfortunately, such ideologues are persuasive and can convince people that all will be well, because people are basically good. Truth is they are not, we are not.
I don't see that this can end well. Just as with abortion, the mindset that sees death as a solution to problems will prevail here and we will get doctor-assisted suicide within the next decade. What we need now is a strong lobby of the doctors to stand their ground and refuse to comply with what is required of them. The time is coming when Christians are going to have to go public with their faith and take the consequences. This is a society that is no longer tolerant of Christian values; the only course of action will be resistance.
The woman who attended with me said afterwards "why was there not a doctor or nurse on the panel?" Indeed, why not?