Here in Canada we have just received a terrible blow to respect for the dignity of individuals. The Supreme Court has (erroneously) ruled that doctor-assisted suicide is a fundamental right of Canadians.
This is wrong on several accounts. Some points I take issue with:
The first being that we do not gain our dignity by what we do or how we live it. We have our dignity by the very state of being human. To view it as otherwise creates a rhetoric of utilitarianism. Dictionary.com states that utilitariansim is “A system of ethics according to which the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged by its consequences. The goal of utilitarian ethics is to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” It does not value the dignity of people and supports “the end justifies the means” attitude. Its logic lends to attitudes that base the dignity of any person by the consequence of their life. Therefore, if they are not useful or do not produce, they are not valued because they do not contribute (or contribute as much) to the happiness (or goal) of the majority. People with disabilities, people with depression, and others in situations that take away from the “happiness for the greatest number” are not favourable to maintain dignity and are easily cast to the wayside. To view human dignity by any other means than that of it being an inherent part of the human condition is to default to this utilitarian rhetoric.
Secondly, the worth of someone becomes defined by a relativist reasoning system. Those who cannot stand up for themselves find their lives are up for debate by those who may or may not be willing to care for them. While currently it is reported that “The ruling only applies to competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives.” (source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-court-allows-doctor-assisted-suicide-in-specific-cases-1.2947487). This clearly has been shown to not be the case in the European countries who have adopted doctor-assisted suicide. This is demonstrated by recent cases in Belgium: “twins who died by euthanasia because they feared becoming blind, the woman with Anorexia Nervosa who died by euthanasia after her psychiatrist had sexual relations with her, the depressed woman who died by euthanasia, and the person who died by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation.” (source: http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca/2013/11/belgian-euthanasia-researcher-admits.html). Belgium also has documentation of assisted death in cases where there was no explicit consent given, despite the fact that is it a legal requirement. Though illegal to begin with, the Netherlands now supports euthanizing infants and children as well.
This is extremely relevant in our times as we are on the verge of a large group of people, the baby boomers, entering into retirement and elderly lifestyles. Under a utilitarian approach (to which euthanasia abides), this means that as they become elderly and less able to take care of themselves, they start to become a “burden” on society in taking up valuable medical expertise, money, and space. They no longer produce, so care for their predicaments when there is an easy out (euthanasia), becomes lost or abandoned. “For if one can be benefited by being killed, is it reasonable to deprive people of that benefit simply because they are incapable of asking to be killed?” (formerly at http://www.linacre.org/newsle~1.htm). This applies also to others in vulnerable states, such as the disabled, the depressed, those with diseases of varying types, etc. When the decision of worth/dignity is not based on the inherent value of being human, it becomes subject to relativism, and therefore also subject to no standard of interpretation or respect.
Thirdly, there is currently serious debate in Canada (Saskatchewan already proposing a draft) in over-riding doctors’ freedom of conscience in practice. This means that doctors would not have the freedom to support the dignity of humans, regardless of their state of life or other help that they could provide, if they ask to be euthanized.
The practice of medicine cannot flourish unless doctors are so disposed that they inspire trust in patients many of whom are extremely vulnerable. Doctors will not inspire trust unless patients are confident that doctors
- are for no reasons disposed to kill them;
- have no inclination to ask whether a patient is worth caring for or treating, rather than asking what care or treatment might benefit the patient.
But the practice of euthanasia systematically undermines both of the required dispositions. For it disposes doctors to kill certain of their patients, and it inculcates a disposition to think of some patients as not having worthwhile lives. http://www.linacre.org/newsle~1.htm
Finally, I have to quote the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching. “[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277).
These are just a few of the reasons that seem to have been overlooked in favour of euthanasia. The worrying part is that this is likely (historically, based on other countries’ decisions) only going to get worse unless the ruling is reverted. So what is it that we might be able to do in face of this horrible decision by the Supreme Court? Support groups that support the dignity of all humans, like L’Arche, all efforts of real palliative care, access to nursing homes, and support of doctors’ freedom of conscience in grave moral matters (to support them, please give feedback on the proposed draft to eliminate it in Saskatchewan!).
And ultimately, at this point, our greatest calling that we can do is outlined by the Archbishop of Gatineau, Paul-André Durocher:
The Bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy, or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide.