Edmonton Journal supports medically assisted dying
In an excellent editorial on 12th April the Edmonton Journal calls on politicians at the provincial and the federal levels to start a discussion across the country on medically assisted dying saying that such a conversation would be, just like the help that we all want, a "humane act".
If you think that your own MP and MLA would each benefit from reading this editorial please forward it to them.
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Editorial: Law forbids a dignified end for some
Though suicide was decriminalized in 1972, counselling or assisting the act is still illegal in Canada, a fact that damns every resurgence of intelligent debate on euthanasia to an unjust end.
Ironically, that's the same fate for many Canadians who would choose to hasten a peaceful, civilized death rather than suffer pain for an extended period or exist only with the aid of medicine and machinery, living lives suddenly devoid of the dignity, independence and quality that had been their hallmarks.
On this issue, the Criminal Code does much worse than merely fail the people it is designed to protect - it makes illegal what ought to be a basic human right: dying on one's own terms.
If a person terminally ill with cancer chooses to end his or her suffering, and can accomplish the deed without help, that final act does not contravene the laws of the land. If a similarly placed person enlists assistance, either because he or she no longer has the ability to act alone or because of a desire for a more painless, peaceful end than is available without a prescription, that constitutes a criminal conspiracy.
Surely this contradiction is incongruous with the moral and ethical codes on which a civilization is founded.
Until a government summons the backbone necessary to take a libertarian stand on assisted suicide and empower Canadians to dictate their own last wishes, those who desire death on their terms will be faced with choices that are flawed and lacking a base level of compassion.
This is admittedly an old debate, but it has been reopened recently in Quebec where the Dying with Dignity Commission issued a report last month after two years of studying the issue, and in Alberta where retired biology professor Lochan Bakshi presented - on the letters page of this newspaper - a lucid, concise and compelling case for the right to end what has been a complete and fulfilling life.
The all-party Dying with Dignity Commission of nine members recommended that Quebec legalize doctor-assisted euthanasia in "exceptional circumstances" for the terminally ill.
"Some sufferings can't be relieved satisfactorily and the seriously ill who want to put an end to their sufferings (that) they deem senseless, come up against a refusal that isn't in line with Quebec's values of compassion and solidarity," said the report.
The letter from Bakshi, who suffers from diabetes and requires kidney dialysis, appeared March 24 under the headline "Ready to die and in need of help." Its straightforward eloquence captivated many Journal readers and started a vibrant conversation.
"I have fulfilled all my worldly responsibilities," he wrote. "I am now ready to die, but there is no dignified way to die in Canada."
His statement should resonate with politicians in all provinces and in Ottawa. A veritable mass of Baby Boomers is aging and though advances in health care are sure to extend life expectancy, a good number of those looming senior citizens might share Bakshi's views on quality of life and dignified death.
After all, society's attitudes on such personal matters are like everything else in a fast-paced world, that is to say in flux .
Though there is precedent-setting legislation allowing medically assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington and it is also legal in Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, the decisions made in other jurisdictions are largely irrelevant. Yes, there are lessons to be learned in how those states and countries navigated such a slippery political slope. And certainly, it would be instructive to learn how the real-world deployment of the legislation has been affected by religion and the prospect for abuse or manipulation by descendants who no longer want to be burdened by the presence of an infirm elder.
But viewed and legislated properly, this is as personal a choice as one can possibly make and it should be exactly that. Life is hard. When a person in complete control of his mental faculties, like Bakshi, has decided the end is nigh, dying should be easier.
But it is not the easy out of a coward, it is a humane decision, a signal from a healthy brain to an unhealthy body that it is OK to stop working.
Despite the presence of logical arguments in favour, in our country and many others it is still illegal to receive the medical guidance and expertise to aid a death. That should matter to Canadians who want the freedom to think for themselves, about themselves.
Bakshi wrote in his letter to the editor that he reached out to his MP and received no help. He also called on Premier Alison Redford to foster an important debate on the topic, but that obviously hasn't happened during the election campaign and might not occur afterwards.
Regardless, what we really need is a federal government willing to engage the populace in a countrywide discussion of assisted suicide, one that reaches the floor of the House of Commons. Given the intense passions the question ignites on both sides, raising it would not be the politically expedient choice.
In fact, it might ultimately be a factor in the government's loss of power. But, the conversation, like assisted suicide itself, would be a humane act.