Lately, we have witnessed a pernicious cultural trend toward the rebranding of legalized euthanasia as a gift rather than a menace to societys most vulnerable citizens.
I doubt that Bloc Québécois' Francine Lalonde's Bill C-384 bill seeking to decriminalize euthanasia (her third attempt since 2005!) will find many takers. At present, there's no political gain here for any national party. But soon enough there may be. Polls show growing sympathy for the notion. Doctor-provided euthanasia would indeed benefit the truly suicidal few, but only by introducing a new "treatment option" to the many: those dilatorily dying, handicapped and depressed patients upon whom the onus would fall to justify their right to a natural life span they formerly took for granted.
Disquietingly for ethical Quebec doctors, the Collège des Médecins du Québec (CMQ) recently made public the recommendations of a committee struck to study euthanasia. Without consulting Quebec's physicians, the committee concluded that the medical profession is "in denial about euthanasia and death." They urge situational euthanasia by medical practitioners, and there are clear indications the CMQ is receptive to their perspective.
I'm alarmed by this in a personal way. Hence the following letter: My dear family, As I write to you in September 2009, I am still physically healthy. But since I expect to die in Netherlands-wannabee Quebec, let me be perfectly clear about my wishes in the event that euthanasia has been decriminalized by the time I am suffering a terminal illness, or am languishing in what appears to be intractable chronic pain.
I do not want to be bumped off. I can't state the case more unequivocally than that. I don't care if I am a "burden" to you (you were once to me, that's how life works); I don't care how long it takes me to die, and how inconvenient that is to the medical system; and I don't care how selfless an example other parents are setting in graciously exiting the world for their dependents' sake before nature intended.
In particular, do not succumb to the now odiously-debased "dignity" argument you'll doubtless hear from euthanasia advocates. I daresay serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo's purposeless, parasitical lifetime imprisonment is not very "dignified," and to many Canadians a life "not worth living." But if the death penalty was not offered him as a "treatment option" for his incurable moral degeneracy out of respect for the sanctity of even sociopathic human life, the rest of us deserve no less for our innocent physical decrepitude.
So make it easy on yourselves by insisting I be attended by a doctor adamantly opposed on principle to such an "option." (I have a few names.)
My deathbed physician should be familiar with a 2002 John Hopkins University study indicating that although 45% of terminally ill cancer subjects voiced a wish to die (i.e., subjects meeting the standards of Bill C-384), the wish turned out to be transient in all but 8% of the cases. If all 45% had been euthanized, we wouldn't know that. So even if I say I want to die, take that as a cry for comfort, reassurance or pain relief, which it almost certainly will be.
My preferred physician would be one disgusted in any case by the notion of doctor-driven euthanasia, but especially so because it is a slippery slope.
He or she would be aware that in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2000, there is no explicit request for it from the patient -- as the law intended -- in fully 40% of euthanasia cases. He or she would also be aware that although Dutch law prohibits euthanasia in children under 12, the Groningen Protocol has nevertheless normalized the euthanasia of certain kinds of handicapped newborns.
Do not fall for any claptrap about what "your mother would have wanted." Read my lips: Your mother does not want to be made to feel it is her duty to die before nature decrees, so that others may be freed from care and responsibility, a subtle shift that inevitably follows upon an established "right."
Mind, your mother is no martyr. If it's hopeless, no heroic measures, please. Oh yes, and she wants to die as painlessly as possible. If this means raiding the entire arsenal of available analgesics and even sedatives whose side effect is to facilitate an easier death, so be it.
Intention is all. I want an unequivocal healer-patient dynamic with my doctor. His or her intention should be to kill my pain, not me. Finally, my doctor should be well versed in palliative care techniques, improving all the time.
I feel much better now, and hope, my dear ones, that you do too. You just got a very nice gift: certainty about my dying wishes. And I just gave myself two gifts: peace of mind -- and several hundred thousand National Post-reading witnesses.
Barbara Kay "Memo to my children." National Post, (Canada) 23 September, 2009.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.
Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003.Copyright © 2009 National Post
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