Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Freedom of Choice

Count me among the 86 per cent of Quebecers who, according to a Leger-Le Devoir-Journal de Montreal poll released over the weekend, approve of medically-assisted death.

If, at some point, I am doomed to suffer irreversible, intolerable physical or psychological pain, and I am completely unaware of loved ones and oblivious to the beauty of life as I once cherished it, it’s pretty safe to say I would not want to go on living and I would choose to, as humanely as possible, end the game.

We recently made that decision for our beloved dog, believing in our hearts it was right. Certainly, humans are entitled to the same humane consideration, especially if the decision is, ultimately, their own. I fully realize the sanctity of human life takes the inherent issues to another level entirely, but some common principles apply.

Beginning June 7th, patients with a “grievous and irremediable condition” will be able to request a doctor’s help to end their lives. I believe the legislation, as it is, though a valiant first step, falls grievously and irremediably short.

Bill C14 states a person must be a consenting adult of at least 18 years of age and “suffering intolerably” to be eligible for medically-assisted death. Furthermore, natural death must be “reasonably forseeable” and individuals must be in an “advanced state of irreversible decline” to be eligible.

Supreme Court of Canada (photo courtesy Flickr)
What constitutes "intolerable suffering", a "grievous and irremediable condition", "reasonably foreseeable", or an "advanced state of irreversible decline"? Many precedents will be set, broken and tested before allowable limits are legally defined.

There are no provisions for those who seek to die due to mental illness, or dementia. At the very least, the proposed legislation must be amended to include those competent individuals who choose to establish advanced directives for assisted suicide, or euthanasia, in the event they become no longer mentally competent.

The Netherlands was the first country to formally legalize medically-assisted death. There, as I understand it, the patient must be conscious and in either unbearable physical, or psychological pain. More than one person must be involved in the decision and the death request must be voluntary. The patient must be given alternatives to consider and there must be no other reasonable solutions to the problem. The patient’s death cannot inflict unnecessary suffering on others.

The Dutch decision to allow medically-assisted death is mostly about respecting an individual’s inalienable right to autonomy. That principle grants a competent individual the sole right to control their destiny and to choose to commit suicide if, in their considered judgment, they ought to do so.

The principle of human worth does not reconcile suicide except perhaps to argue that if, because of suffering or loss of coherent thought, a person is unable to live life to their fullest capacity, with a quality of living reasonable humans would value, then, as a morally worthy society, we ought to respect the voluntary choice of the individual to end their life.

The principle of utility takes into consideration the interests of all parties involved - the person seeking medically-assisted death, their caretakers, loved ones, relatives, dependents and others. If everyone concerned believes death would be a merciful release, then individuals should be free to determine their fate in the moment, or, in advance of the moment.

On the show I host, “Montreal Billboard”, I recently interviewed the Executive Director of the West Island Palliative Care Residence and, last month, accepted an invitation to visit the facility. I was impressed by the facility itself and the unwavering dedication of the staff, but it was explained to me that medically-assisted death is not an option there. Palliative care, by definition, does not hasten death.

I am unshakably pro-choice. In the name of dignity and respect, competent, but suffering Canadians, ought to be given the right and power to choose their end.

What gives government the right to control the final fate of a responsible and reasonable individual? People are dying to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment