I recently sat in on a presentation titled “A Concise History of Euthanasia.”
The presentation, given by UPEI History professor Dr. Ian Dowbiggin, aimed to establish why physician assisted suicide (PAS) should not be made legal in Canada. Though Dr. Dowbiggin’s opinion opposes my own, it was still a highly interesting presentation.
The definition of physician assisted suicide observes it to be “the assisting rather than the causing of death; the prescribing, not the administration of lethal medication,” – in latent terms, it involves a doctor providing his/her patient with medication necessary to kill themselves. So here’s a question: if this practice is in fact legal in many parts of the world, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and US state such as Oregon and Washington where the practice of PAS is written in their constitution, why is it such a taboo in Canada?
Fun fact: euthanasia comes from Greek and literally means “good death.” I know my opinion on this issue will likely cause rage in a few readers, but I’m going to state it anyway. I believe that PAS should be legal in Canada. I realize that I am young and have very little experience with the death of people, but I do have experience with the death of animals.
Another fun fact? People are mammals.
While we are obviously more evolved than our ancestors, one cannot question that we are, in fact, related. Many people view euthanizing animals as a way to end their suffering. When I was in the twelfth grade, I got into a rather heated debate with my history teacher over this very issue. I explained that if my horse had a terminal illness or injury, I would immediately have him put down to end his suffering — and I would want the same done for me. If I knew I was dying, I would rather choose the time of my death than suffer for a seemingly endless period of time — a suffering would without doubt put unnecessary stress on my loved ones. Some people are quick to claim that the idea of PAS goes against nature, but then what gives us the right to choose when animals die? It frustrates me that humans have developed such a superiority complex that we believe that it is perfectly fine for us to choose when to end the suffering of animals, but when euthanasia is applied to humans it is deemed as going against nature.
My confusion here is obvious.
On the other side of things, I cannot ignore that several of the points made by Dr. Dowbiggin on why PAS should not be legal in Canada are quite valid. Noting blurred distinctions between choice and coercion, Dr. Dowbiggin brought up concerns of population control and how some people believe that if PAS were to be made legal in more places, it would then be used as a means to rid the population of those individuals seen to put a drain on society.
While I understand the angle Dr. Dowbiggin is taking, however, I believe these issues to be a stretch to back up at best. For all intents and purposes, people are kind–hearted. If PAS were made legal, I do not believe that it would suddenly be employed as an excuse to rid the world of the sick, infirm or elderly. Quite simply, I see little likelihood that legalizing PAS would lead to the justification of killing people for no reason. After all, there is already a word associated with that: murder. Unjustified killings happen daily across the globe. Legalizing or preventing the legalization of PAS would not affect this.
I realize that the issue of PAS is a sensitive one. I also recognize the issue of the slippery slope and how society is wary of making PAS legal because there is always the possibility that it could end up going too far. However, I view PAS as representing a humane option for suffering people to be able to choose to end their lives. It simply is not fair for people to be forced to continue to suffer a terminal illness such as cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease when there is a solution. I understand that there are occasionally medical miracles, but I think that there are ways to work those cases in to the law as well.
I realize that there will always be exceptions, and the law cannot cover every situation perfectly, but I feel that people should still have a choice. Personally, I would prefer to be euthanized peacefully than die painfully, and I certainly do not doubt that a lot of other people share this opinion.
After all, if people can’t find a way to die peacefully there are less favourable ways to end a life.