Friday, June 03, 2016

How We Take Our Leave

Tom Walkom has a must read column in today's Toronto Star. The contentious debate over Bill C-14, he writes, is about much more than the right to die. It's also about the right to live:

If government has any role in this life and death matter it is not to ensure that as many as possible exercise their right to die. Rather it is to create conditions that would allow as many as possible to keep on living.

The right to death is not the same as other rights. Unlike, say, the right to free speech, it is irrevocable.

Those exercising free speech rights can reverse themselves later. Those exercising death rights cannot. Death is a one-way ticket.

Canadian society recognizes this when it comes to suicide. Suicide is seen as a tragedy. We devote medical resources to psychiatrists and others in the hope that they can talk people out of suicide. We involuntarily commit to hospital those deemed at risk of harming themselves.

In Toronto, special fences exist along the Bloor-Danforth viaduct to deter would-be suicides from hurling themselves into the Don Valley.

In short, while suicide is legal in Canada, society does everything it can to convince those weary of life from taking this extreme measure.

Moreover, he points out, the debate occurs as Canada wrestles with how to deal with an aging population:

In Belgium, according to government statistics, 75 per cent of those who take advantage of voluntary euthanasia are between the ages of 60 and 89.

It is no coincidence that Canada’s debate over voluntary euthanasia comes as this country struggles over how to pay for the costs associated with an aging population. We may decry death, but it is the cheapest solution.

Palliative care is not cheap. But I watched my mother die in palliative care a little over a year ago; and I was impressed with how she was treated in her final days. Jim Morrison wrote -- quite rightly -- that nobody gets out of here alive. That fact is undeniable. The debate is really about how we take our leave.



Dana said...

The debate is also about personal sovereignty.

And for government that is the thin edge problem. If individuals are ultimately and solely sovereign unto themselves what might that mean to external authority structures?

Owen Gray said...

Good question, Dana. And the question is the essence of the neo-conservative critique of government -- which takes its cue from Ayn Rand. It's difficult to strike a balance. And that's why the law, when it is eventually passed, will be challenged again all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Mound of Sound said...

There is no "debate," Owen. That's something we've experienced too often from those seeking to block action on climate change. Politicians debate. The Supreme Court of Canada doesn't. It has found a constitutional right to humane death under the Charter. That's the end of this nonsense about debate.

Walkom seems to think that suicides are a matter of misfortunates having a bad hair day. He overlooks what the Court acknowledged, that people can have to endure both physical and psychological suffering that is unbearable.

I agree that we need far more palliative care for the majority who will always prefer to die a natural death. Now, where's the money?

I'm not sure that the Liberals' unconstitutional law will find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. If this week's decision by the Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court is any indication, it might not even get as far as some province's Court of Appeal. Do you think this cowardly, craven government has the stomach for subjecting a person in unbearable circumstances to that ordeal while it drags the matter out to the Supreme Court of Canada?

Owen Gray said...

I suspect the law will be challenged immediately, Mound. It will be up to the court to strike a balance -- if they choose to do so.

Steve said...

i will die for the right to off myself, what is more personal than that. Seriously I went through this with my Dad and we do not really need a law, doctors do the right thing every day

Anonymous said...

The Walkom article is one of the best written on the subject, and the one most who work in the health system would recognize. But the Mound will not let anything stand in his path of attacking the Liberal government. It's a pity more people don't stand up to that bully and tell him to stop trying to push people around. Where is their courage I wonder? And what will be their legacy?

Owen Gray said...

The Mound is a man of strong, unvarnished opinions, who believes deeply in the Charter and is suspicious of any abridgement of the rights it guarantees, Anon. But, because he is a retired lawyer, I'll let him defend his opinions himself.

Dana said...

Trudeau can violate the Charter if he wants to and anybody who says he can't is a Trudeau hater.

Have I got that right, anonymous?

Other than the colour of your tie or scarf your different than a Harper fanatic are you?

Owen Gray said...

The problem, Steve, is that -- just as relatives or friends can profit from the estate of a deceased person -- others can profit if someone speeds up his or her departure. There need to be assurances that the decision is being made freely, without undue or unfair influence.

e.a.f. said...

The right to die, yes we want it. I should have the right to "check out" when I want, not when someone else wants.

The right to live. Yes, there can be a problem if family and governments want us to exit stage left because there is a high cost involved when we wish to continue on. So that is where the safe guards come in.

The issue has come up now, because people in North America have been travelling to European countries to die. They want to die at home. There is more political will at this point, because we the aging baby boomers have always had more control over our lives than previous generations. We now enter the final stages of our lives and many are not interested in continuing on in this life if its not on our terms.

Many have no interest in prolonging an end which we know is coming and will not be fun or comfortable. It in fact will be painful and without dignity. there maybe those of religious persuation who believe dying is a process. Well there are processes some of us are not interested in and would prefer in fact insist we do not participate in. I for one want to select the date and time of my exit. I do not believe there is a here after. You're dead, you're dead. I want to say good bye to friends and family while I can and then close my eyes and go to sleep. In the Netherlands my uncle was able to select the time and date. It was civilized. We visited, we said our good byes.

The sooner this legislation is passed the better. Not all of us have doctors who will help us along. Not all of us will have access to a supply of drugs which will help us along. We need the right to ask health care practioners to help us exit this life, when we are ready. Only we can decide that for ourselves.

Owen Gray said...

The problems of equal access to doctors and drugs are two of the problems the legislation needs to solve, e.a.f.