The Current, a morning program on CBC RadioOne, aired an episode about the challenge to the Canadian laws against assisted suicide this morning from 8:30 to 9:00. It sounded more like an endorsement for the practice than investigative journalism. ARPA Canada submitted the following letter to CBC:
I caught the last fifteen minutes of The Current this morning on CBC RadioOne on my drive in to work, as the interviewer was speaking with Grace Pastine, the litigation director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). The interviewer asked two questions. First: will physician-assisted suicide lead to the elderly feeling obligated to exit this life? Second: is legalized assisted suicide actually cruel to those suffering?
In both cases, Grace Pastine (the litigation director BCCLA) did not answer the question. At all. She spouted fluff about compassion and ending suffering, dropped all kinds of distracting speaking points, but never addressed the problem put to her. I suppose her tactic worked, but I was disappointed that the interviewer did not challenge her. That demonstrated poor journalism: When Ms. Pastine was asked a direct question, she ought to be called out when she refuses to answer it. Ms. Pastine’s avoidance of these questions goes to the heart of this very important debate. There is so much at stake!
Let’s look at the two questions put to Ms. Pastine. First, will legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide lead to an obligation to die? Absolutely it will! It’s legal! Our elderly are going to be a massive burden on the health care system, especially as the baby-boomers retire. They will feel like they are a burden on society and on their family, especially if they get sick. Unless Ms. Pastine can say with 100% certainty that not one person will be euthanized against their will, that not one person will be pressured into ending their life with the “help” of another, then she has no right to try and press her “right to die through any means possible” and so trump that most fundamental right, the right to life (section 7, Charter) of every other citizen in this country. Don’t forget, Ms. Pastine and those she represents already have a right to die. What they are fighting for is the right to have help in killing themselves.
Regarding the second question, legalizing assisted suicide is actually the crueler approach to suffering. It changes us from a culture promoting life to a culture promoting death. It changes our doctors’ focus from finding cures and better ways to live to finding better ways to die, it removes incentives to further research and develop palliative care. This is what is key in the second question: should we end the suffering by ending the life, or end the suffering by ending the pain? That’s the question. And as soon as we allow for ending suffering by ending the life, then any incentive to investigate further into ending suffering by ending the pain (palliative care) goes out the window.
And where will we stop? I wonder, assuming assisted suicide were made legal, if Ms. Pastine and the BCCLA will be satisfied with assisted suicide as a voluntary thing. I would predict that, within a few short years of such legalization, physicians who do not assist in killing patients will be penalized or disciplined, and if not, that the BCCLA will be fighting in court demanding a right to have physicians forced to assist in suicides. This country has to realize that assisted suicide finds us halfway down an extremely slippery slope to Nazi-era disposal of undesirable and non-contributing members of society. Are we willing to go there again? It’s not worth it.
André Schutten, B.A., LL.B.
Legal Counsel, ARPA Canada