Thursday, December 30, 2010

Human Dignity as the Source of National Purpose

One of the most difficult subjects to deal with is assisted suicide. Especially in Canada, where we battle between our desire to provide people with dignity and a good quality of life, while respecting life itself, we have chosen to ban assisted suicide or its more active cousin euthanasia but this may not be the case for much longer.

An article in this month's The Walrus outlines the struggle for pro-choice advocates, and how their big chance came in the form of an official objection to the abortion ban. It was championed and fought fiercely all the way up to the supreme court, setting the precedent that legalized abortion. The Walrus speculates that it was this process of outright genuine objection that caused Canadians to take a critical look at the issue, meaning it was finally the elephant putting its foot in the popcorn that meant we could no longer ignore it in our living room. They further the point by outlining that it is this process that is needed to legalize assisted suicide.

Although the issue itself is up for debate, and even the process by which we may uncover the truly Canadian belief in the matter, what I feel is unchangeable is the outcome. Assisted suicide will become legal in Canada. It simply must.
Much like in macroeconomics, if the prices in one country are too low the international community takes notice and drives up the demand, thus increasing the prices to the conventional point. The demand for assisted suicide will cause Canada to lose revenue to other countries where the process is legal, until such a point when we are functionally forced to allow it. One of two situations must hold: Demand is increasing or demand is decreasing. In cases where demand is decreasing, Canada can simply table the issue until the public finds some other shiny issue and wanders off, but if demand is increasing, the government will be forced to notice the issue and eventually legalize it (Pot smokers, take note.)

Not only that but the whole issue raises another set of issues; whether Canada has the right to ban someone from traveling to another country to engage in assisted suicide. Obviously Canada cannot prosecute someone for engaging in an activity that was legal in the country it was preformed in, but this principle makes laws dangerous arbitrary. The difference between allowing someone to travel to another country to kill themselves and allowing someone to travel to another building to kill themselves makes us wonder what exactly the point of the ban is attempting to prove.

The main forerunner for the assisted suicide debate will undoubtedly be abortion; a country cannot condone abortion but turn its nose up at euthanasia (you either favor choice over life or not) but it is strange, unintuitive, that it should happen in this backwards fashion. One would assume that abortion would be the tougher case to plead, but perhaps it has had a larger underground market. The main advocate for assisted suicide are the people who, once their goal is achieved, are not in a position to make a statement, whereas the supporters of abortion are the women who desire abortions, and may be very vocal about it. In addition to this, a failed abortion risks two lives, but a suicide only risks one, and in fact, only the one that is desired to be ended. In essence, the main risk in abortion is quantity of lives, but the main risk in suicide is quality of death.

The argument that pushed abortion could be tidily used to support euthanasia as well; if you don't legalize it, it will continue in less safe circumstances. People will still want the control to end their own lives; an unmonitored system simply runs the risk of abuse. It is functionally more negligent to pretend the issue does not exist rather than address it and deal with it, and the "Head in the Sand" approach has never served us well.

The main objection to the argument will be swiftly undone once alternate countries are considered; It is theorized that once we allow assisted suicide, the door will open to a society where we have no respect for human life. This is referred to as the "slippery slope" argument and it can be effectively undone in two steps: one, show that the four European countries it is allowed in have no experienced rampant murder as a result of the legalized suicide and two, show that even though Canadians are allowed to travel to other countries Canada has not experienced a rash of rampant murders either.

Anyway, regardless of where you stand on the issue, the fact remains, the next big change to Canadian law is going to be assisted suicide and it is likely to happen, depending on the motivation of its advocates, in the next decade. 


Anonymous said...

I disagree with your assertion that abortion and euthanasia are related topics when it comes to societal values. The 'respect for human life' argument, while lovely sentiment , ultimate is a straw man on both sides.

We already live in a society with little value ascribed to human life. Most do.

I also disagree that assisted suicide and euthanasia are legally identical. At the heart of it the difference is in scenario 1 a person makes a conscious decision to end their lives. Fill your boots. In the other one person makes the conscious decision to end SOMEBODY ELSE's life without their consent (possibly because that consent is impossible to obtain). Under the 'Hell'... 'No'.

I have zero issue with assisted suicide and have the exact same objection to euthanasia that I do to capital punishment. Who gets to make the call, when, and by what right do they do so?

Living wills are lovely documents, and I respect the sentiment, but what if you've changed your mind when faced with the circumstance and haven't had a chance to tell your lawyer? And what if the doctor telling you the condition is irreversible is wrong? Too darn many questions.

Jurisdiction over your own life is a non-issue for me. That's a de facto right granted by virtue of being the pilot. Jurisdiction over the life of another is definitely an issue for me.

Economically, I'm completely OK with another country footing the bill and getting paid for doing so. It's not a for-profit business and the market is tiny. If you can afford to travel, you can afford your own funeral costs, so no taxpayer costs there. You don't take up a bed in hospital when you leave, so those resources are available to patients interested in continuing to live. It used to be a joke that people couldn't afford to die, but in the modern economy it's considerably less funny.

I generally sidestep the abortion discussion with the no uterus = no opinion cop-out, and will continue to do so unless/until my progeny are the focus, in which case it is a private matter and the world can bugger off.

Miss Ernst said...

I'm curious to know what you would consider a proper level of value for human life. What would that look like to you?

The precise debate in abortion is whether or not you ARE, in fact, ending someone else's life; whether a fetus is a person or not. That means if one does not consider the fetus to be a person, than the question is entirely identical to the assisted suicide debate, in essence, how much domain can we claim over our own bodies?

How do you have "no issue" with assisted suicide but then call into question the best means of determining the difference between AS and murder, i.e. a living will?

The problem is that we must consider cases where a person wants to end their life but is unable to do so. The "positive right" (requiring assistance) to personal autonomy, as opposed to the "negative right" (requiring only that others stay out of things).

There is no such thing as a not-for-profit business. Not even medicine. The market may be currently tiny, but it is not shrinking.
Also, assuming you can travel, especially when it is for something as vital as the peace and dignity of AS, does not mean you can afford a funeral. Especially since most terminally ill people have no source of income, so they can not exactly "save up".

The "no-uterus = no opinion" belief is, I am sorry to say, one of the few things that offend me anymore. If I supported abortion I would say that the government is trying to tell me what I can do with my uterus, if you do not speak up for me, I will not speak up for men's rights, if they are ever examined. The problem with politics is that non-objection is considered compliance. If you don't speak up, you are assumed to be agreeing, and if I was pro-choice, I would find your tacit approval of the government's actions offensive.

If only we could all define whatever we wished as "private matters" but then the Austrian monster who chose to keep his daughter in his shed for 18 years would have the right to. Either everyone can decide their "private matters" or no one can.