Euthanasia II – The Price of Death

Canada’s Parliament will be returning Dec, 3 and one of the first things on the agenda will be the issue of assisted suicide, something that the Supreme Court has said must be addressed soon. Given that, I thought might be appropriate to re-post some of my thoughts on the subject from earlier this year. Who knows, maybe some new parliamentarians will read these posts and think a little deeper as a result.

In the not too distant future, it seems, Ontario’s health care system will have to confront the issue of assisted suicide.

The question won’t be whether to allow it or not. The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered Parliament to make it happen, and my guess is Parliament is too spineless to tell the Court to stick its social engineering in a spot that rarely sees sunshine. This is going to happen. And the Court says doctors must do the killing.

Which means the province, which is responsible for delivering health care to its citizens, will soon have a decision to make. How much is a human life worth? Or, more practically, how much will the state pay a doctor to kill a patient?

In Ontario the medical system works on a fee per service basis. Doctors are independent contractors who are paid by the government on a piecemeal basis through an agreed-upon fee schedule. A physical exam pays a certain amount, an injection a different amount. The system works relatively well, though it does encourage doctors to push patients through quickly to maximize income.

There is no fee schedule for euthanasia yet.

I wonder how the medical association and the province are going to work that one out. No matter how you look at it, it will boil down in a way to putting a price on a human life. Will it pay more or less than dealing with an ingrown toenail? After all, it should be a simple procedure and no need to worry about post-operative care. Why should it cost the taxpayers (who are paying the bills after all) an excessive amount?

It has occurred to me that this really isn’t a new problem, just new to the medical profession. Once upon a time, in certain circumstances, the state sanctioned the taking of life and hired people to do that. In theory, as society became more enlightened, lawmakers realized that taking life was wrong and abolished the death penalty, but before 1976 the Government of Canada had an official executioner whose job was to end the lives of criminals sentenced to death.

If the Wikipedia entry is correct (and I can’t vouch for it), there were occasions when the executioner, although on the civil service payroll, did his job for free. I can only assume from that that he liked his work. I am sure if the province advertised the job they would find many people who were willing to end others’ lives and not charge for it.

Apparently times have changed and the state is once again going to authorize the taking of a human life. This time though it will be people who supposedly want to die and who have made an informed decision on that matter. I’m not a fan of that – I can think of so many ways that can be abused. I know there are compassionate reasons to consider that, but I don’t think the individual cases outweigh the common good. I don’t know for sure of course, but I think I would still feel the same way if I was the one in pain.

Can the state ever in such circumstances guarantee that no-one who wants to live will die at the hand of another? I thought not.

Only a heartless person would fail to sympathize with those who suffer from incurable, painful illnesses. I am not convinced though that assisted suicide is the best way to deal with pain. I wonder what the consequences would be if Parliament told the Supreme Court it was wrong, that we believe too much in the dignity of human life to start killing each other for medical reasons.

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