Not all lunatics are in the asylum

I’m often asked, “What have you learned as a medical journalist?” In one word, “Plenty.” After writing a column for 38 years you would have to be an imbecile not to learn something about medicine, human personality and hypocrisy. But above all else I’ve concluded that common sense is an uncommon commodity, and not all lunatics are in the asylum.

Let’s start with the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s composed of legal experts who, having reached this exalted position, you’d expect to be the ‘crème de la crème’ of this country.

But how much horse sense do they possess about medical matters? How much understanding of their fellow men? And why are they so out-of-tune with the wishes of the populace?

I’d bet my life that if any of these learned judges had a beloved dog suffering in pain, they would immediately end its agony by a veterinarian’s lethal injection.

So why not human suffering? For years the Supreme Court of Canada has turned a deaf ear to the cries of those destined to end their lives in misery. In their infinite wisdom (unlike doctors they haven’t witnessed countless patients dying undignified and painful deaths), they decree that any doctor who deliberately ends human suffering with a lethal injection is committing ‘murder’. This can result in years of incarceration for the physician.

What lunacy, hypocrisy and injustice! So much for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms! When I mention the need for a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Humans (I’d like to remind the Supreme Court and Federal Politicians there is an existing one for animals) I receive huge support from readers who demand that assisted death be made lawful for those who wish it.

Those who argue against assisted suicide are usually religious bigots who have no respect for the moral rights of others. It’s their way or the highway. Moreover, these righteous souls repeatedly distort the historical fact of assisted death.

History shows that countries that have legalized assisted death are not overburdened with requests for it. Rather, those who have the legal right to assisted death rarely use it.

Nor is there any evidence that the elderly, those with disabilities or those who simply do not want to be part of assisted death, have ever been forced to seek it. Instead, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows everyone to suffer weeks or months of terminal agony if they desire to do so.

So what is the answer to this continuing human injustice? It will not come from legal experts in ermine robes in Canada’s Supreme Court. The asinine law will change only when tens of thousands of citizens demand that it be changed.

For years, elected officials have feared the backlash of the bigoted, but well organized, vocal minority who invariably oppose assisted death. They will be more terrified only when the silent majority informs them their days in parliament are numbered if they do not pass a law making assisted death legal.

In 1984 I proved this approach worked. I delivered 40,000 letters (not e-mails) from readers to the Minister of Health in Ottawa demanding that heroin be legalized to ease the misery of terminal cancer pain. This was followed by other thousands of letters to their own elected officials. Heroin was soon legalized.

This fight for the right to assisted death won’t be easy. But for those who believe strongly as I do about this issue, the only hope is to send a barrage of letters (more effective than e-mail) to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1M 1M4, demanding that the law be changed to allow assisted death. If all organizations in this country urged their members to do so, it would create a huge ‘ice-bucket challenge’ for justice in this country.

Donations can also be sent to Dying with Dignity, 55 Eglinton Ave. East, Suite 802, Toronto, Ontario, M4P 1G8, or see the web site or Tel 1-800-495-6156.

Surely there is no greater crime than to force a life of agony to continue when a loved one cries out, “Please end my suffering.”

For information, For questions, email

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