“Death Without Dignity”

Culture

Death without Dignity

Euthanasia forces the terminally ill and disabled to end their lives to reduce the emotional and financial burden on their loved ones.

Photo by Francis DEMANGE/Gamma Rapho via Getty Images

In the dystopian film Soylent Green, Edward G. Robinson’s character, Sol Roth, has lost the will to live. In the middle of downtown, he presents himself to a brutalist, darkly lit euthanasia facility. Two toga-clad officers take Sol into futuristic chamber. They dress him in white, place him on a padded bicycle, and then drape him with a white fabric. After Sol has drank the poison, two officials take him into a futuristic chamber. A wraparound screen is embedded into the chamber walls and begins playing scenes of nature: deer running, birds singing, grain flowing. It’s set to Edvard Grieg’s “Aase’s Death” and Mozart’s “Pastoral.” This is an eerie scene, which forces viewers to confront the shame of the worst suicides.

To our north reality is increasingly like science fiction. This month the AP reported on several Canadians who were either euthanized or pressured to consider euthanasia under Canada’s recently liberalized assisted suicide law. One man with a degenerative brain disorder was reportedly told it would cost “north of $1,500 a day” to keep him hospitalized and was asked if he “had an interest in assisted dying.” A suicidal patient with a mental disorder requested aid in dying and was granted it. This was supposedly due to a hearing condition. A third, a 41-year-old with ALS, was euthanized after he failed to raise enough money for medical equipment that would help him stay at home with his son. These cases are representative of Canada’s campaign to end death with dignity.

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Last year, more than 10,000 people died by euthanasia in Canada, which accounts for more than 3 percent of the total deaths recorded nationally in 2021. Of the 10,000 Canadians who killed themselves with the help of a medical professional, 219 did not have a terminal diagnosis.

The right to kill yourself in Canada was discovered by liberal jurists in 2016. In 2014, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association alleged that the national ban on euthanasia violated the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian supreme court agreed, and in 2016 struck down a national law that deemed assisted suicide a form of homicide.

The court granted parliament one year for enacting enabling legislation. Its initial law required patients to have a terminal illness to qualify, but a provincial court struck down that requirement in 2019 after another activist lawsuit. The national and provincial governments declined to appeal the ruling, prompting parliament to pass Bill C-7, making any adult with a serious illness or disability with the capacity to make informed decisions eligible for voluntary lethal injection. The bill also created an expert review panel to examine whether “mature minors”, as well as mental patients, should be eligible for assisted suicide.

In the four years that euthanasia has been legalized in Canada, almost four times as many people have received lethal injections. In 2017, the first full year that the practice was legal at the national level, 2,838 Canadians were euthanized. By 2020, that figure had more than doubled.

It would be incorrect to claim that Canada is on a slippery slope. Canadian leaders view euthanasia as a positive good. It is seen as an extension to Canada’s progressive national character. Jean-Yves Duclos, the health minister of Canada, stated that Canada’s assisted-suicide regime recognizes “the rights of all people” and “the inherent value of each life.” One of the country’s two major parties claims Canadians have “the right to decide when their life ends and when their suffering ends.”

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They don’t have this right. Our bodies don’t belong to us. The soul is what separates humans from animals, as well as our capacity to endure and process suffering. It is not difficult to see that many people suffer immense emotional and physical suffering towards the end of life. Many people lose their dignity. This isn’t a reason to legalize euthanasia. It actually strengthens the case against it. What can we say about a country encouraging the terminally ill and others to commit suicide?

Euthanasia does not have a bad reputation. It is possible that first-world children could be eligible for assisted suicide. This isn’t bad because it forces the terminally ill, elderly and disabled to end their lives to reduce the burden on their loved ones. This isn’t bad because it implies that living with a severe disability is more painful than death. This is because people can kill themselves, even those who are capable of giving informed consent.

The inability to participate in meaningful activities is one of the reasons that assisted suicide patients in Canada choose to die. Some others cite loss of independence. Many felt that they lost their dignity. Canada’s mass-euthanasia campaign seems to indicate that they agree.

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