Assisting Death

Sitting waiting for the vet to look at a sick cat at one o’clock in the morning gave me plenty of time to think. Expecting bad news, my mind turned to some other bad news that has hit Canada recently, something more serious than our seemingly unending winter.

Canada is about to have a national debate on quality of life and end of life issues. Our Supreme Court has overturned legislation prohibiting assisted suicide (I will perhaps write about that idiocy in a future post) and instructed Parliament to come up with a new law and rules for how one person can help another to die.

I have waited a few weeks before wading in on the topic. I am sure there are those more eloquent than me who have put forth and will continue to post arguments as to why assisted suicide is a bad idea. It is not that many years ago that both the Supreme Court and Parliament both decided that the status quo was best fort the nation; that no Canadian could be permitted to aid another’s death. There is much I want to say, but I am going to limit myself to this one post, at least for now.

I am in complete sympathy with those who have terminal illnesses, are in extreme pain and want to end it all. But having sympathy with someone for a situation they find themselves in doesn’t mean I can agree with suicide as an option, assisted or otherwise. I have heard all the arguments about quality of life. I understand that there will be protections put in place to prevent abuse of the provisions, when and if they are established. But I still know that this is a bad idea.

In a perfect world someone with a terminal illness, no hope of a cure, would be lovingly assisted to die with dignity, surrounded by loved ones who celebrate their life as it gently slips away. Last time I looked, this wasn’t a perfect world.

Economic issues will be injected into the argument at some point; that seems to me to be inevitable. It costs money to keep people alive. From a government perspective it would be a lot easier if people were to die a bit sooner. The health care system consumes an ever larger portion of Canadian provincial budgets. It would be better for the bottom line if expensive end-of-life care were to be for shorter periods. At some point, years ago, I read a newspaper article that stated that 75-90% of most people’s lifetime healthcare costs happen in their last two weeks of life. That makes sense – we try and prolong life, which is an expensive proposition, because we are rarely ready to let our loved ones go.

However, if assisted suicide (which is really a synonym for euthanasia) becomes reality I foresee increased pressure on families to pressure their loved ones to terminate their lives. The state would prefer that we all die a little sooner.

When I decided to not go forward with the recommended treatment for our cat, the decision was a purely economic one. If Canada’s laws change to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia, that brings a new economic variable into health care, with as yet undiscussed ramifications. At the present we do not end treatment because it is expensive, we value human life too highly. We have traditionally believed that there is a huge difference between humans and animals. It would seem that the Supreme Court has forgotten that. I hope the rest of society remembers.

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