First, let me tell you about a news item I watched on the news last night.
A very prominent Canadian, Dr. Donald Low died this week. That was not big news, but certainly news to those Canadians who knew of his work. When SARS hit in 2003, he was a world leader in how to deal with it. He did many impressive things over his lifetime and he will be sorely missed. He died of a brain tumor to his brain stem. Brain cancer. Which is something I know all too well about. That is what took my mother. Very slowly.
Dr. Low's death is not what this blog is about. How he died, and more specifically, the rate and the severity of it....is.
Last night on the National news, the lead story was a taped interview that Dr. Low gave about a week before he passed. He was making a plea for the legalization of doctor assisted suicide. That simply won't happen. Our Prime Minister says that is not even open for debate and he wont bother with it. Why? More about that in a minute.
"Why make people suffer, for no reason, when there is an alternative?"
-Dr. Donald Low
That is a great question. Why do we do that? Since I have been through that, as many have, I still haven't got a good answer for the why. It goes against all logic. We wouldn't do it if it was a pet, but we treat our loved ones that way. Or better stated, we are forced to treat our loved ones that way by the state. I know that I certainly would have chosen that option for my mother the minute she stated she just wanted to die. But that wasn't allowed. We had to watch her suffer for 2 or 3 more weeks while she was medicated to the gills to prolong her lifeless life. There were a few nights that I contemplated smothering her in her sleep with a pillow so she wouldn't have to wake up and suffer longer. Would that be assisted suicide? I don't think so. It would be a humane end in the best way I would have been legally allowed to do it. The best way would be to put her under, completely, and then let her drift off, the way they put down dogs and cats in a vets office. That is legal, but to do that for a human isn't. When a dying person has a terminal illness, do they really meet the standard we have for what suicide actually is? I don't think they do.
I will use my mother as an example.
My mother wanted to live, until it became clear she simply could not. She fought hard for many months trying to beat that cancer, pretty much the same one that took Dr. Low.
Then, she wanted to die, only because living wasn't living. That isn't suicide. People who commit (or attempt to commit) suicide appear to have no hope, but they do have hope. Those who usually claim to want assisted suicide have no hope. They have been told that by the same doctors who we wont allow to help end their suffering when they ask for it.
All they can look forward to is a horrible, painful death that is nothing more than medically assisted sustenance to keep their body alive longer than it wants to be alive. That isn't living. That is dying while still alive. They have no hope and all they can look forward to is suffering when they don't have to, and most clearly state they don't want to.
So again, I ask the question. Why do we make them do that? I will return to that in a moment.
When I hear the term "pit bull" I see an angry face of a dog in a ring, staring down an equally angry dog ready to tear each other apart for the sick enjoyment of people who are less than human. That is wholly a wrong way to look at dogs which are just as kind as the next dog. But that is what the name conjures up. That image. How they are described is how they are perceived. I have always thought that pit bulls should be renamed to something more apt to describe them. That wont happen, but if it did, I suspect that there wouldn't be the cry to exterminate them that now exists in many areas, including mine where it is illegal to have one, and if caught, they will be impounded and put down. It doesn't matter that they have never done anything wrong, and in many cases are the sweetest dogs. Many are puppies and could not even conceive of harming anyone.
When you describe ending a human life, humanely, you should not describe it in any way as suicide. That isn't what it is. As soon as that happens, people automatically reject the notion and the reality that what you are doing is humane.
We all want to help the old, injured, disabled or somewhat mentally challenged (we used to call that retarded, but again, you can't describe it that way anymore) people. It seems like the right thing to do. Most of us don't have a problem with "welfare" for those who simply are not able to help themselves, but what we have a problem with is giving money to those who are able bodied, capable enough and seem to just be happy to live off the system. Not that they wouldn't work, or don't want to work, but the feeling is that they don't try as hard as they should because they can fall back on the social safety net.
There is a big difference between welfare, social assistance and what "Welfare" now really means. What does it mean to most of us? It means you are an adult and you can't support yourself when you should be able to do so. There is no shame in that. It happens to all of us. People lose jobs, or have to stop working for legit reasons. However, we have now grouped two different things into one and stigmatized those who need to go on welfare with those who appear to be content to live off the system. Social assistance and welfare are not the same thing, but they are spoken of like they are. Just like we have done with Pit Bulls, and just as we have done with Doctor Assisted suicide.
Suicide implies killing yourself. In this case, that simply isn't how it is. The disease is killing you. You just want to make it stop by ending it. That sounds like a subtle difference, but it isn't. It is a huge difference.
If we want to change the law, we need to stop calling it doctor assisted suicide. It isn't suicide. It is rightful and timely closure of life. Chosen by the person who is living that life. If we change the term, we can change the laws.
The major argument I always hear is one of families ending the life of a loved one for financial or other motives, and that the dying person did not actually consent to the assistance. I get that. But in this case, we must view the bigger picture.
There is a saying when it comes to convicting people in court for very serious crimes.
Ten guilty men should go free if it means one innocent one does not get wrongly convicted. In this case, that isn't a good way to look at it. If it means one person who didn't want assisted dying dies, I can live with that. Because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people die horrible, slow, overly enhanced and medicated deaths that are needless at best, and cruel and inhumane at worst.
When you weigh both sides, it seems to me the right thing to do is allow those who wish to avoid the suffering they have no need to endure. But for that to happen, we have to change how we describe it in the first place.
Dying with dignity. That is what Dr. Low wanted. That is what my mother wanted. They lived their lives with dignity, why is it that we can't let them die that way?