Linda Couture is the Director of Living with Dignity a Quebec based organization promoting palliative care, home care and a natural end to life as opposed to assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Quebec government's Special Parliamentary Committee on Dying with Dignity has sparked both an intense debate inside Quebec and across Canada. Here is her contribution to: What would you like to become more visible in 2011? This is an addition to the original collection. You can also Download Becoming Visible - the complete collection of 58 essays.
A Natural End to Life
There is one question people of retirement age must ask themselves about assisted suicide and euthanasia. Did I spend my adult, working life to build a society where death – government-administered death – is offered as the answer to social challenges?
The question is not a religious question. It is not a partisan political question. It does not come from the perspective of Catholicism or Islam, conservatism or liberalism, federalism or separatism. It is an intensely personal question because it arises exactly at the boundary where individual choice meets social consequence.
The reality of that boundary helps us see clearly the error in the thinking of our fellow citizens who, with the best of intentions and genuine compassion, depict euthanasia and assisted suicide as acts of autonomy that affirm an individualʼs control over his or her own body.
By their very nature, euthanasia and assisted suicide can never be autonomous acts. They always require the minimal involvement of one other individual: the assistant to the suicide or the administrator of the means of euthanasia.
What our fellow citizens advocating euthanasia and assisted suicide seek, however, is much more than the minimal involvement of one other individual in discreet cases.
They want the entire apparatus of the state to become involved in approving and administering all cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
They want, with all compassionate motives and best intentions, to standardize euthanasia and assisted suicide as common medical practice in our health care system.
In order to realize their stated goal of individual autonomy, then, they are prepared to transform Quebecʼs entire social model of public health care from one based on treatment, care and comfort to one whose resources are at least in part allocated to paying for state-administered death.
Now, it is a fair argument to say that the deplorable state of Quebecʼs medical system leaves it a long way from being a model of treatment, care and comfort. It is also justifiable to argue that at least some of the support for euthanasia and assisted suicide comes from those who have suffered, or fear they will suffer, from the frightful deficiencies of that system.
But those deficiencies, surely, represent a failure of public policy. And when, exactly, did death become a desirable response to public policy, failed or otherwise?
Put another way, why should the people, indeed all Quebecers of retirement age, who have worked so hard for the past two generations to build a fair, equitable and secure society, let politicians off the hook for their failures of policy and administration? Why should the elderly in Quebec take death in the arm, or wherever else it is administered, simply because politicians cannot properly exercise the trust we place in them to provide us with functional, effective, dignified health care?
Democracy does not make deals with death. Democracy uses the collective energies of individual citizens to press hard and forward for societies that are fair, equitable, secure, that show solidarity with the weak, the disadvantaged, the elderly who may no longer be able to speak for themselves as they once did.
All of you, in your individual ways and in your own lives, have worked for many years to make Quebec such a society. Please donʼt let that project be abandoned now, no matter how well intentioned or compassionate the arguments of our fellow citizens may sound.
Click to read my previous posts on this topic: Stephen Dawson – Still Living with Dignity ; Quebec's Dying with Dignity Hearings Attracting Unprecedented Attention and Not Dead Yet-More on the Euthanasia Debates.
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