Adam Kingsmith has an M.A. in International Relations and is an Associate Editor of The Hidden Transcript, where his blog Social Glasnost explores the linkages between technology, culture, and dissent—with the occasional ill-advised foray into Canadian politics. He currently splits time between his hometown of Vancouver and Toronto. His article below originally appeared on The Huffington Post Canada.
Following the recommendations of a provincial panel of legal experts on medically assisted end-of-life procedures, the government of Quebec has announced plans to proceed with its “dying with dignity” legislation—paving the way for doctors in the province to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives.
“Every person should be able to make their own choice according to their values and according to their experience, their life, at the end of their life,” said Jean-Paul Ménard, who led the legal panel.
As expected however, the federal government has made it clear that it is unwilling to change the current laws prohibiting medically assisted life-ending procedures—even announcing plans toappeal last June’s ruling in the B.C. Supreme Court partially striking down the ban.
Usually, this would be the point where both sides get stuck at that tired old impasse.
Yet the legal experts conclude that Quebec could bypass the Criminal Code altogether due to the provincial healthcare system’s continuum of care—permitting a terminally ill patient receiving palliative treatments who can demonstrate a lucid desire to end their life, assistance in doing so by virtue of the Quebec government’s duty to care for its citizens.
“The constitutional basis is clear… We are really in a field of regulating end-of-life care—and adding the possibility for somebody to have access to medical aid in dying,” concluded Véronique Hivon, Quebec’s social services minister.
In case you haven’t already noticed, there is one term that is missing from both the legal panels’ findings, and the statements made by the Quebec government on the matter—euthanasia.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this was done on purpose—euthanasia is one of those smooth sounding words that inescapably stirs up an unproductive debate fuelled by passion as opposed to pragmatism.
It’s a word which has been annexed by some of the overly zealous pro-lifers—proclaiming their respect for “human life,” whilst simultaneously showing none to any human who wants a sliver of control over their own life as they struggle through a horrendous situation, the likes of which I doubt many pro-lifers have personally experienced.
It’s a word that conjures up images of fear-mongering and disjointed propaganda, which attempt to draw parallels between the consenting death of a very sick and competent person and the threatened suicide of a manically depressed teenager.
In short, the lexicon for the term is pejorative—forever linked to depression, suicide, and elderly abuse. Don’t get me wrong, those are huge problems we need to address as a society, but they are by no means directly correlated to the medically assisted suicide of a terminally ill and competent adult.
So can we please stop treating them as such.
It is for these very reasons that the choice—a conscious one in my opinion, was made by the provincial panel and the Quebec government to refer to its medically assisted end-of-life procedures as “dying with dignity” as opposed to euthanasia.
I’m sure this clever phrasing won’t deter the staunchest pro-lifers from once again climbing into your hospital beds and telling you or your loved ones to stop complaining and just suffer through the insurmountable pain quietly so that they can go to bed at night knowing they “protected human life.”
It might however, pull the debate surrounding euthanasia back from the precipice of absurdity on which it currently teeters by reminding us all that the discussion should not be a nationwide showdown between pro-lifers and pro-choicers.
It’s much less complicated than that.
Instead, the discussion should be a private one between a palliative and terminally ill patent and their doctor regarding the role said physician will play in accompanying them towards the inevitability of death with as much dignity and medical assistance as possible.
I can already hear the critics barking back—”euthanasia is a slippery slope.”
But it’s not really—if a culturally comparable locale that legally permits dying with dignity such as Oregon is any indication, this slope isn’t very slippery at all.
Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in the state for over a decade, but it only accounts for one in every 1,000 deaths each year. So even though the number of patents discussing the option with their families—1 in 6, or their doctors—1 in 50, is actually quite high, the safeguards appear to work.
That fact that very few people opt for the procedure shows that while many may seek out information regarding a medically assisted end-of-life, virtually none of them go through with it—instead choosing to take mere solace in the fact that it’s an option if the pain becomes too unbearable.
So to reiterate for the umpteenth time, there aren’t really any scary precedents or slippery slopes here. What there is, is an alternative to an existence of suffering and pain that should, and can be afforded to a terminally ill, palliative treated, mentally competent adult.
It’s time to shift away from the messy public spectacles regarding euthanasia. Instead let’s follow Quebec’s lead—Canadians everywhere should be able to choose from a full range of end-of-life options, including—if the prerequisites are met, the option of a medically assisted suicide.
After all, isn’t that what democracy is about—barring that no one else is directly affronted without his or her consent, the freedom to live life, or end it, as one sees fit? If so, then why does this freedom somehow become contingent when one is on their deathbed?
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