Assisted death: its time has come

How ironic that Quebec, a Roman Catholic province, should lead the rest of Canada into the realm of dying with dignity and freedom from pain. But it’s not shocking since the same province pushed for the liberalization of abortion and same-sex marriage. So, congratulations to La Belle Province for taking a stand on this contentious issue whose time will surely come. But I can hear the howling and irrational fears that will descend on Quebec.

In 1984 I presented my view on assisted death to a committee of Canadian senators. It was a waste of my time and taxpayers’ money. The outcome was pre-determined as several Roman Catholic senators served on the committee. That’s akin to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Besides, the most credible witnesses I wanted to present had all died in pain.

Over the years hundreds of angry readers have expressed opinions about assisted death. Most learned from the tragic experience of seeing loved ones tortured in their final days. They were tired of ethicists and others who believed their own moral code bore the stamp of the Almighty and applied to all.

There are so many ironies to this debate. It’s incredible that we have a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, yet none for humans. We never let our pets suffer, yet turn a deaf ear to human cries for help.

The critics of assisted death invariably use asinine reasons for denouncing it. I’ve heard ad nauseam that assisted death is a form of the Nazi extermination camp. This is a false and ludicrous comparison. Nazi executioners never gave victims the choice of life or death.

Critics also resort to the “slippery slope” argument. They howl that the elderly and sick will be quickly exterminated. But this has not happened anywhere in the world where this humanitarian option is provided.

For years Holland has allowed assisted death to patients, but under strict conditions. All options for relieving pain must be exhausted. The patient’s doctor must seek the opinion of other physicians and the patient’s family must be part of the decision. No evidence has been found that Holland has become morally bankrupt as a result of this medical procedure.

The blunt fact is that history shows there have been no abuses. Oregon’s legislation was passed in 1998 without triggering an epidemic of assisted deaths. Even in Switzerland, the most liberal of all nations, assisted deaths account for only 0.5% of deaths in that country. The Swiss agree it’s reassuring for patients to have assisted death available, when needed at the end of life.

What I find most disturbing is that the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice claims such a law opens the door to homicide, is marketing death and is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath to save lives. This is absolute nonsense. Using this oath 2,000 years later after its origin to countermand assisted death is the same as arguing we should still bore holes in skulls to let out demons.

Surely doctors who witness painful death regularly, should support relief from agony at the end of life. How many times I’ve heard doctors say about a patient dying in agony, “It will be a Godsend when it’s over.”

The solution is simple. The living will should be a legal document. And allow each patient to name a committee of trusted people who can then decide when it’s reasonable on humanitarian grounds to end life.

My committee would include my wife, children and my physician. But I’d also add a veterinarian to apply the same logic he or she applies to end the life of a beloved dog in pain. For the ethicists, do-gooders and all those with moral and religious views against assisted death, I give them my blessing to suffer as much and as long as they wish in the process of dying.

Surely there is no better example of what’s wrong with The Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it currently does not allow freedom from pain on the death bed.

Next week, what you should know about a Living Will and how to obtain one.

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