Assisted Suicide in Canada: a lack of ethics at home.
By Christina Lamb
There can be times when working through ethical problems and/or dilemmas can be difficult, convoluted and ambiguous. Alternatively, there can be times when ethical issues are relatively straightforward. Regardless of the absence or presence of complexity in any given ethical issue, all ethical questions should be attended to with a considerate and thought–provoking examination. Thankfully, fundamental roadmaps exist to guide those charged with the privilege of navigating through the often murky waters of applied ethics. Unfortunately, not all those charged with this privilege plot their course in the right direction and sometimes wander into dangerously unchartered territory, where sense and experience would have guided them elsewhere. An example of a wayward navigator can be found in Canada’s British Columbian Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith who recently ruled in favor for those who assist in assisted suicide to receive ‘constitutional immunity’ and has put it to the higher court in Canada to take a year to concede to this said ruling (Johnston, W. National Post,2012).
Fatal thoughts and desires
When Justice Smith sees a ban against assisted suicide as a discrimination against those (disabled) persons who cannot independently kill themselves (Johnston, W., National Post, 2012), she restricts herself to points of periphery, as opposed to the fundamental ethical priorities at hand. These issues of priority consist of whether or not a person has the right to kill his or herself, (which begs the consideration as to whether or not there is a mechanism available to deny someone death), whether someone should be placed in a position that would perpetuate a moral dilemma (the person who would assist the suicide) and finally, creating a process whereby Canadian citizens kill off their countrymen and women. There is more at stake in a ruling for legalizing assisted suicide in Canada then an altered national identity for the community at large. In a particular way, the framework of the Canadian health care system will be so affected that the destruction of its society will be directly because of its society.
The discussion surrounding personal rights and freedoms is of particular interest and importance. However, when it comes to end of life issues, there is a misconception that is sometimes held, which is that there is a ‘right’ to die. Or at the very least, that ‘a right postponed is a right denied’ (Jones, D.A.,2008). So, in other words, for those who are interested in ending their lives when and how they wish are inhibited to do so by way of the law or physical limitations, then they have a ‘right’ that is being denied them. However, death is an experience common to all creatures. All human beings will die. Hastening the process is not the antidote to postponing a right that does not exist. Alternatively and more in line with ‘rights’ talk, not all human beings get to live, due to many reasons, some of them being war, murder, acts of violence, abortion, and embryonic destruction for stem cell research, but it would be accurate to assert that a right is being denied in all of these scenarios. A right to life is a right denied when an other’s actions deny any given person their existence. This is a right denied related to the assertion through action, that a purpose and meaning does not exist in every human life. Consequently, to end another’s life based on the subjective perception that another’s life no longer has any purpose or meaning in order for it to live, is suggestive that there is a time when a human being them self, has no meaning or purpose. Parallel that to past and current racial, cultural and religious genocides where perpetrators essentially believed that certain persons were meaningless. Then look at those requesting assisted suicide related to the lack of meaning in their own lives (even if due to unfortunate suffering and illness) and to draw any compatible sympathies in their meaninglessness would be leveraging towards the side of perpetrating violence as is the case with assisted suicide.
Assistance–there’s a double meaning in that.
The second point I will now address is ‘whether someone should be placed in a position that would perpetuate a moral dilemma (the person who would assist the suicide)’. If it were legalized to allow certain people to assist in the suicide, several unethical situations could arise. If left up to health care professionals to assist in the suicide, such as medical doctors, for those who do not agree with this suicide an ethical problem or dilemma will occur. They will be forced to object or refuse and whether or not they decide to exercise their freedom of conscience in the matter, the participation through an indirect or direct act of an ‘other’ in one’s death, perpetuates a moral dilemma. Even if a doctor agreed to assist someone to commit suicide, the fundamental ethical issue at stake is that assisted suicide is still killing another human being. To call it otherwise would be dualistic. For those whose primary professional function is to cure or offer comfort as opposed to killing, changing their fundamental focus will alter the very core of their role. Throwing in the dualistic function of ‘assisting’ to end with death is, at the least, manipulating language. At the worst, it is professionalizing a death squad.
Community in context
Legalizing assisted suicide in Canada would call for creating a process whereby Canadians would be killing their fellow citizens at the end of life and going unpunished on home soil. In a particular way, if this work is carried out through the national health care system, this health care community, (or a community within a community) will be fundamentally destroyed. As I wrote in a previous piece:
“Mankind’s relationships with one another serve as the building–blocks of a community, and are founded on a desire to find meaning. The society of a health care system can be built upon relationships of meaning to safeguard and protects the lives of all people. This is because the health care team, from interdisciplinary and patient viewpoints alike, recognizes the value of each life in relationship to each other. The legalization of euthanasia would threaten the societal relationship of a health care system. Euthanasia would disregard the meaning each life holds within the system as part of a structure built for the purpose of each person to care for one another” (Lamb, C.2009, p.2).
This destruction of a community within a community can have global implications. While I write this reflection on an issue of tremendous ethical importance on my own country, I aim to give personal insight to those in others in an effort to not repeat in their own homes what is potentially happening in mine. The lack of applying fundamental morals (that each person has a purpose and that each life has meaning) to social decision–making can lead to unethical ethics in any country. If the meaning to be found in the purpose of every human person is not recognized or upheld as a fundamental core to a nation, than that country too, is at risk for killing at home.
A framework of meaning
To deny that killing a human through assisted suicide is not akin to murder is denying that each and every person has a purpose. This purpose is fundamental to our existence. Victor Frankl touches on the purpose of the human person when he discusses the meaning of human life:“The true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world…being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself” (Frankl, V.,1984, p.133).
Giving of oneself does not consist in participating in assisted suicide. Even if one wanted to manipulate Frank’s language to posit that killing someone out of love is an act of service to end their pain negates the meaning of the life in the person assisted to die. How are they serving or loving by asking to not live any longer? If anything, asking to be killed is introspective and self–serving. It does not take into consideration the weight of the action of the ‘other’ killing them, nor does it promote an outward focus of fulfillment by actualizing oneself relationally. Instead, request for and support of assisted suicide does exactly the opposite of what Frankl points out. It reveals that a person no longer thinks of his or herself as having something to live for, and asks another to see them that way as well. It is ultimately a perpetuation of victimization of self and of an ‘other’ by encouraging the one assisting in the suicide to view some people as no longer having any meaning. Such an outlook supports viewing other humans on a dualistic, unethical level. By asserting in her court ruling that a ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional, (Johnston, W. National Post, 2012), Justice Smith deviates off course from upholding core elements in the framework of human existence by assenting that some lives are not worth living.
Instead, Smith, and the higher court in Canada should show a strong moral compass by maintaining that assisted suicide is unconstitutional in Canada. They should work to spotlight leveraging more assistance to those requesting assisted suicide through better access to health care, pain control and social supports instead of killing them. In doing so, Smith and the court would be navigating their privileged positions with the understanding of a meaningful, ethical framework by which to steer those they can aid.
Legalizing assisted suicide in Canada will have a disastrous outcome on the nation’s population. It would lead to creating a framework that will de–value life, enforce invoking freedom of conscience and perpetuate ethical dilemmas, enable a death squad and potentially destroy the health care community within the community at large. Destroying laws built to protect the weak and vulnerable in this country is a matter of ethical division and will merely function to decay the moral fabric of the Canadian community.
List of References
Frankl, V.,1984, Man’s Search for Meaning, Pocket Books, New York, New York.
Johnston, W., 2012, The Wrong Decision on Assisted Suicide, National Post, June 18, retrieved at: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/18/will-johnston-the-wrong-decision-on-assisted-suicide/
Jones, D.A., St. Mary’s University College, Lecture ‘Suicide and Euthanasia’, Nov. 2008Lamb,
C. Euthanasia–Finding Meaning in the Health Care Community, BioCentre Opinion Piece, 2009.
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