A right to life. And to choose.

A few months ago, I happened upon an article in Toronto Life about assisted suicide. Specifically, about a man who had helped people take their own life in secret. At the end of the article, there is a very long and heated “debate” going on in the comments section. I know, I know, don’t read the comments. But this is a subject that is important to me, as I believe assisted suicide should be a legal option for the terminally ill. So my curiosity got the better of me.

Naturally, there are strong reactions to the idea of being able to take your own life. Many people (like myself) who have witnessed the suffering of family and friends see assisted suicide as an act of compassion. Opponents of the idea label it as a coward’s way out, or something that will be a slippery slope and abused my those who don’t actually need it. And then there are those who think it’s wrong in the eyes of God.

Full disclosure: I don’t believe in God. I “practiced” religion until around the age of 12. Then my Mom allowed me to make my own decisions. I have no problem with those who do believe, though. In many ways, I admire their faith and commitment. What I do have a problem with is using the idea of a God as a reason to not allow something to become law.

In my (admittedly very subjective) experience, many of the opponents of assisted suicide invoke the idea that all humans have a “right to life” and therefore we cannot allow people to take their own lives. There’s a concern that people will be wrongfully coerced into using assisted suicide when they don’t really need to, or that they will die shortly before a drug was discovered that could have cured them. This is, in fact, exactly what was suggested by the most outspoken opponent in the comments on the article.

Most of his arguments stemmed from a column he wrote where he outlined the following scenario:

“A strong, healthy man suffers from a disease. He wastes away to a shadow of his former self. He is all skin and bones. Death is imminent. The doctors are telling him there is no cure, no treatment left. At this point, he considers assisted suicide to avoid the pain and suffering and maybe to save his family some of the money being spent on his care. He goes through with it. In a short time, he is killed by a physician. And the very next week, a new drug is discovered which could have allowed that man to make a complete recovery.”

Of course, that is always a possibility. But is it a realistic one? Or even remote? To me, this reads like a fantasy. It is talking in absolutes. If only someone didn’t kill themselves, a miracle drug would have been created a week later!

I will admit that this is a possibility, however remote. But if the terminally ill have a right to life, don’t they have the right to choose death? The idea with assisted suicide is that the patient chooses to end their life rather than endure an excruciating death. And yes, they are eliminating the unlikely possibility of being saved by a miracle drug. That’s their choice.

There seems to be a theme from the right to life crowd, which is that they claim making this law will make suicide and assisted suicide one in the same. I have yet to see any convincing argument as to why that would be true. I also find it interesting that they say you have a right to life, but apparently you don’t have a right to choose.

To me, our right to choose is as ingrained and essential as our right to life. In Canada, we have the privilege to make choices about our lives. I think, in the case of terminal illnesses, that should include being able to choose to die. It is not cowardly and it is not morally wrong. It, ideally, is an informed choice made because of the finite nature of existence. We don’t have to have our suffering and our death decided by nature. Certainly not by God.

Personally, I am thankful that our government is basing our laws in the reality in front of us. They are acknowledging that to be human is to have the right to live and, eventually, the right to choose to not.

If you’re interested in the subject of assisted suicide, I suggest you watch the documentary How To Die In Oregon. For or against, it’s moving to watch.

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