Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Euthanasia I

Gloria Taylor fought for the option of a planned end to her
life.  She died of natural causes on Friday October 5th, 2012.
Although she had won the option of an assisted suicide from
the court, she did not use it.  Gloria simply wanted the option
to end her own suffering should the pain become unbearable.
Way back in April or May, I started a post on euthanasia and the Right to Die.  I was prompted then by a controversial report done for the Quebec National Assembly on the question of euthanasia and dying with dignity.

The government site is here and the actual PDF: Mourir Dans La Dignité (Dying with Dignity) can also be found there.  An English version of the report was supposed to be made for May 2012.  Governments and their promises.

By the way, trying to find the original report via the media stories was like searching for a needle in a haystack.  All I found were news stories referencing the report and failing - almost as if on purpose - to properly link to it so I could actually read the thing myself and make up my own mind.  

Take for example the obviously pro-life  news site Life Site News, who provided a link to a report documenting abuse of the elderly in palliative care homes and another discussing how a majority of briefs from the committee's public hearings were either against or somewhat against euthanasia but fail to provide a link to the actual report in question.  I haven't had a chance to read the 180 plus page report myself, but I had intended to read it in the original French - Bloggers and their promises.

Anyway, I never got this post out back in April. It's such a touchy subject - like abortion - and then other things crept up and the post became too complicated so I put it onto the back burner.

Honestly, I had so much to say about assisted suicide that I just didn't know where to start. The end-result is that nothing came out.  I think this is the situation with most people and is why we tend to only hear the screeches of those who have very simplified - often religiously motivated - opinions.

Here, I'll attempt to bang out a first post on this divisive topic.


Why Now?

What prompted me to get this first post on euthanasia out now, after so long, was the thought-provoking and emotional documentary that aired over the weekend on CBC: The Life And Death of Gloria Taylor.  I'm uncertain whether my American readers can watch it, but they can read about many of the details at the accompanying news story: Inside Gloria Taylor's battle for the right to die : The life and death of physician-assisted-death crusader Gloria Taylor.

You see, during the time my original blog post sat in my Drafts folder, Gloria Taylor, had not only been struggling to live with ALS but was also fighting for her right to die with dignity.

It's her recent death - without assisted suicide - that has prompted me to dig up the old first post I made about the subject.  As such, this post won't be about her.  It will be about some of the controversy that surrounds euthanasia - in particular, at the time around the release of the report back in March.  I am likely to write about Gloria in a future post.


My View

Just to get things out in the clear, I believe euthanasia is a good thing if well-implemented.  I would like to think that I have the right to end my own life when it becomes too unbearable due to medical illness of debilitation.

I got to see my grandfather suffer during his last few days.  His mouth wide open gasping for air and his chest jerking up and down like a fish out of water.  He appeared to be in real pain and complained a great deal about how horrible it all was.  I wonder if he weren't so Catholic if he would have asked to end his life.

At the core, I believe that anyone should be allowed to terminate their own lives on principle.  The right to end one's life should be a fundamental one.

But I can see where there are problems with this view when it comes to conditions like depression - which should be treated first.  In other words, things get really difficult if the person is not of sound mind.  Every effort must be made to bring the person to a state of sound mind.  Upon failure, I'm not certain where that leaves us.  This is an open ethical question for me.

A psychological assessment should be done.  If a person is found to be of sound mind then there should be some kind of legal framework in which they can terminate their lives or request their lives be terminated under certain conditions in the future.

I realize some people may find this shocking.  Perhaps the law could be made more restrictive and some threshold of pain and suffering could be built in where no euthanasia could be done before it has been crossed.  A committee of health care professionals could perhaps determine this.


The Opponents

The Catholic Church: Quebec’s Catholic bishops to lobby against doctor-assisted euthanasia
The Quebec bishops opposed euthanasia during commission hearings. They testified that Quebec should make the end of life as “humanizing” as possible and that death should occur at its natural time, not before that time with the practice of euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Apparently the Catholic Church wishes we all die in the most humanizing way.  We should all die at the natural time.  I suppose they also wish we opt out of delaying death unnaturally with medicine and artificial life support?  Are we not trying to undermine God either way?

I suppose there may be a reason they aren't using the word humane.  I can remember watching my grandfather die after they removed his remaining support.  It seemed no more humane then to simply end his tortured breathing painlessly.  In fact, it seemed less humane.  When our animals are in horrible pain - whether it be a horse or a cat - people will euthanize them out of mercy.  It's the humane thing to do.

But suffering is not a bad thing to the Catholic Church, in my experience.  It's a badge of honour. It's carrying the cross.  Mother Teresa:
Mother Teresa had a favourite anecdote that starkly clarifies the difference between the two outlooks. "I never forget one day when I met a lady who was dying of cancer and I could see the way she was struggling with that terrible pain. And I said to her, I said, you know this is but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Him on the cross that He can kiss you. And she joined her hands together and said, 'Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.' "

Undaunted, Mother Teresa continues. "This is the joy of suffering, the kiss of Jesus. Do not be afraid to share in that joy of suffering with Him because He will never give us more suffering than we are able to bear." 
You can see her recounting this as a joke to a Catholic audience on this video.
You know, suffering is a gift from God? 

This is a perverse undertone I have encountered in the Church - the Cult of Misery, Pain and Suffering.  The celebration of the crucifixion of a man.  The gory blood stained statues of Jesus on the cross in the churches.  It makes me ill and repulses me and I reject any clergymen trying to impose this twisted victim worship onto others.  I demeans the pain of people to a level less than the suffering of common farm animals.

The Pro-Lifers:  Quebec in Danger of Radical Euthanasia and Legalizing Euthanasia Leaves Vulnerable Unprotected

This group is also known as some Catholics - for the most part.  The camp is motivated almost solely by religious assumptions about the existence of souls at conception (many of which God apparently reap with great gusto with miscarriage after miscarriage).

Of course the biggest challenge is protecting the rights of the vulnerable.  But do they really believe people (doctors included) would go on a mad killing spree if euthanasia were legalized?

Safeguards and constraints would be put in place to guard against this happening.  Believe me, those on my side are not blind to these possibilities.  Everyone involved, myself included, may very well find ourselves as vulnerable elderly people.  Of course any legalized euthanasia would deeply consider this possibility - it's in everyone's self interest to make sure it's done right!

And I find it a little ironic that those who are so deeply concerned about protecting the rights of the unborn - many of which do not have developed brains and minds - are uninterested in respecting the wills of people who do have minds and are usually keenly aware of their predicaments - like Gloria Taylor.  Those who are completely aware of the deterioration of their bodies and are trapped on a train of pain who's destination is nowhere but a prolonged ever worsening act of dying.  I believe they simply to not believe that it is our right to be in control of our bodies at all and that they have some diving mandate to tell us we must suffer in honour of their god.


A Scholarly Opinion

But what really surprised me was the opinion piece I found by the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law Margaret Somerville : National Assembly Report Reads Like a Pro-Euthanasia Manifesto (Unfortunately link no longer works).

Now I haven't read the report, so I don't really know if that's true - I'd be happy if it where.  What caught me off-guard was that the director of a major university's medical ethics centre would write something like this.  So I dug further into her article.
The Quebec report takes a purely utilitarian approach to the euthanasia question. In the committee's estimation, legalizing euthanasia will do more good than harm - and that justifies allowing it.
Being an atheist, that's about the best I could do too.  Yes, depending on how you weigh things, doing more good than harm is a good thing.  This is a complicated question of course.  From my personal experience, the dying are sometimes not the ones who wish to keep living themselves.  Sometimes it's the friends and relatives of the dying that are just not ready to let them go.  It should be up to the individual to decide when and how.
It upholds respect for individuals' rights to autonomy and self-determination as the overriding value, citing, among other examples, the current approach to abortion as showing this value predominates in contemporary Quebec society.
Well amen.  Sounds logical and well thought out so far.  Just these few words make it look like the product of a secular utilitarian ethical system.  This seems good to me.
Finally, the committee argues that allowing euthanasia is merely an incremental change - we all agree with palliative care and so, it says, "aide médicale à mourir" (euthanasia) needs to be seen as just another "palliativecare option."

How should we respond to these arguments?
How about sounds good to me?  Because it all sounds reasonable.  By the way, aide médicale à mourir translates to medically assisted death.
The clash of values involved in the euthanasia debate is between respect for life on the other hand and individuals' rights to autonomy and self-determination on the other. People who reject euthanasia give priority to respect for life; people who support euthanasia give priority to autonomy and self-determination.
Alas. No, no, no, no, no, no.  This doesn't need to be an either or.  People who support euthanasia give priority to quality of life over quantity of life.  A high quality life will include autonomy and self-determination among other things.  Things that make life worth living.  One who is in perpetual pain and ceases to derive any joy from life - or even worse, someone who is in pain, immobile, hours or days from dying - is it not cruel to prolong their suffering?  Why is it that we put our farm animals and pets out of their misery when they suffer but we force people - who often have larger, more complex brains, capable of greater physical and emotional suffering - to pass agonising final days as nature takes its course.

Furthermore, it would seem as if the same person who wishes to deny me the right to a dignified death is also against my right to marry whomever I choose: Small Protest Greets Margaret Somerville.

Oh yeah, not surprisingly, she's also out to try and control whether or not you are in control of women's uteruses:  Margaret Somerville: Focusing on the fetus changes abortion debate.

In the end, it's not about the sanctity of life or God's laws.  It's not about religion - it's about compassion for our fellow human beings.  It's about trying to reduce the suffering in this world the best we can.  It's a Humanist Ideal that is shared by many Atheists and Theists alike.  Gloria was religious but unlike Margaret Somerville she understood this.
Taylor wore butterfly earrings as a symbol of hope. 
“That’s going to be my sign to one sister, Shirley in particular, when I come back, so she’ll know that butterflies are that beautiful life after death.”
This brings me hope that, someday soon, more religious people will be fighting for those who wish to die with dignity.

5 comments:

  1. Northern Free Thinkers22 October 2012 at 23:32

    Just one important note, WE NEED TO STOP INTERCHANGING EUTHANASIA WITH ASSISTED SUICIDE!!!!
    Your words: I believe euthanasia is a good thing if well-implemented. I would like to think that I have the right to end my own life.

    Ending your own life is NOT euthanasia. I am in full support of assisted suicide, and I am fully against euthanasia.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment!


    What do you think of the term "voluntary euthanasia"?


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_euthanasia

    ReplyDelete
  3. Euthanasia is killing someone else. Suicide is killing yourself. Let's not muddle.
    Voluntary euthanasia I equally against because I believe humans barely have free will (I am a biologist and always look at things from a biological perspective, I am a lifelong atheist and have never been coerced into faith) in our healthy years, to think that free will is possible in times of duress is ludicrous. Our will, especially in times of duress, is extremely successiptible to coercion. Coercion FOR death can come from family members wanting insurance money, from family members wanting a release from responsibility, doctors wanting organs, other people wanting organs, etc, etc. Even assisted suicide can be coercive, but at least the buck stops at the person in question.

    People need to make a Living Will indicating which manner of life support they wish to endure. Without a living will there should be no early unplugging from life support either. No to human euthanasia, no matter what adjective we put in front of it. My family are aware of my non-continuance desire.

    The reason I got annoyed at your wording is because I see a lot of switching around of this terminology in the media lately, creating confusion. Let's stick to clear communications, Laws for assisted suicide need to be entirely separated from laws for regarding euthanasia and murder.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Euthanasia is killing someone else. Suicide is killing yourself. Let's not muddle.
    Voluntary
    euthanasia I am equally against because I believe humans barely have free
    will (I am a biologist and always look at things from a biological
    perspective, I am a lifelong atheist and have never been coerced into
    faith) during our healthy years. To think that free will is possible in
    times of duress is ludicrous. Our will, especially in times of duress,
    is extremely susceptible to coercion. Coercion FOR death can come
    from family members wanting insurance money, from family members wanting
    a release from responsibility, doctors wanting organs, other people
    wanting organs, etc, etc. Even assisted suicide can be coercive, but at
    least the buck stops at the person in question.

    People need to make a Living Will indicating which manner of life
    support they wish to endure. Without a living will there should be no
    early unplugging from life support either. No to human euthanasia, no
    matter what adjective we put in front of it. My family are aware of my
    non-continuance desire.

    The reason I got annoyed at your wording is because I see a lot of
    switching around of this terminology in the media lately, creating
    confusion. Let's stick to clear communications, Laws for assisted
    suicide need to be entirely separated from laws for regarding euthanasia
    and murder.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks so much for your comment! I responded to it here:

    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/2012/10/the-word-euthanasia.html



    I'll admit that I still don't quite know where I stand with the details of implementation on legalized assisted suicide. They say the devil is in the details.

    ReplyDelete