Slippery Slope or…

Pipestone Flyer

If you follow the major dailies across the country, you’ll notice that suddenly, euthanasia and assisted suicide are back in the news. This is due to recommendations issued in a report by the Royal Society of Canada urging the government to amend the Criminal Code to allow death with dignity for those who desire it.

Like every issue anymore, there appears to be only two, very polarized sides to the debate. What’s worse is that in this issue, both positions can offer up extremely impassioned, logical, reasonable arguments that their way is the most humane method of dealing with the exceedingly infirm.

Those in favour of doctor-assisted suicide and other end-of-life options argue that it is a person’s right to end what is solely there’s. They claim that if we do indeed have dominion over our own bodies, we should get to decide if we wish it to harbor our spirits any longer. The pro-euthanasia side also argues that we provide this very option for our beloved pets when they get too sick or too wracked with pain and disease to enjoy their waking moments. Why wouldn’t we allow the same humane end for our human loved ones?

There are a number of economic arguments to be made for allowing the severely ill to hasten their own demise. The resources that would be freed up would be able to help people who may actually get better. It doesn’t take an economic genius to realize the positive impact it would have on the always-stretched health dollars.

Additionally, by controlling the moment of death, doctors can be much more successful at harvesting organs for donation purposes. This would bring some measure of meaning for the person’s death and may provide some comfort for the bereaved.

Even those against the designer death concept admit that these are exceedingly compelling arguments to support the initiative. The biggest fear for the Pro-Life side, if I can call them that, is of that old and truly fear-worthy concept of “the slippery slope”. It’s one thing to provide a dignified choice for those in constant pain or have some type of degenerative disease and who are informed and self-aware, but it’s another thing altogether if the medical community or family members get to make end of life decisions on behalf of a patient. Pro-Lifers worry for those in a coma, those who are aged and those who are handicapped. It’s a huge issue with many handicapped persons agencies for fear that slippery slope will lead to eugenics and cultural cleansing of anyone different.

There is no doubt there are those that would sign whatever paper you thrust at them to get rid of a care-hogging older relative who is spending all the inheritance money on room and board in a senior’s lodge. There may even be unscrupulous doctors who may be more motivated than appropriate when selecting candidates for euthanasia if another of their patients requires an organ. Cash-strapped hospitals may slowly but inexorably move the qualifying yardsticks lower and lower, apologizing all the while for any “whoopses” they may have done. The opportunities for abuse are legion.

Both sides use Holland’s example to make their cases. This country legalized euthanasia in 1984 and has kept careful records of its impact since then. Currently, in that country, euthanasia accounts for approximately 3% of all deaths. Both sides of the debate, of course, break that statistic down to minutia in order to bolster their arguments.

In Canada, we have a rather quaint system. End of life decisions are made in hospitals all the time but nobody talks about it. The only rule is: don’t get caught. We make examples of men like Robert Latimer who took his cerebral palsy-afflicted daughter’s life, believing he was doing her a favour. Yet these sorts of actions are commonly done by health care practitioners.  The status quo is uneven and fraught with peril for doctors.

The Pro-Euthanasia adherents dismiss the slippery slope and say that it is merely fear-mongering and back up their claims with calming statistics. The Pro-Life spokespeople use other sets of statistics that would lead one to believe some countries have already crested that slope and are well on their way downward. Who does one believe?

The report from the Royal Academy of Canada will be very difficult for the Harper government to consider. This is an issue that ignores party lines and is an issue that is important to all of us because aging is something we all do every day. Passions are rife on both sides. This is one issue where there is no middle ground; they either allow it or they don’t.

Who will decide who qualifies for termination? What will be the criteria? Will it include only people alert enough to decide their own fate? What of victims of dementia; those unable to make such a decision but might if given the chance? What if the one seeking to end their life is the victim of a mental, not physical disease; severe depression, for example? Is that reason enough? Some reports in the media have even described countries that allow euthanasia in the case of financial straits as justification for state-sanctioned death. Is that where we would be headed?

This is a most difficult choice to make. It is one of the very few issues I am truly torn on. I wish Mr. Harper a great deal of luck.

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