The right to die is as sacred as the right to live

Almost a year into its legalization, medically assisted suicide is still something to be fought for

In June 2016, medically-assisted suicide, which is the act of suicide with the aid of a medical practitioner, was legalized in Canada. We are approaching the one-year mark of that decision, yet some people still strongly oppose it and feel that it should be illegal.

I think that in a civilized and democratic society, people should have complete autonomy over their actions so long as they don’t intentionally harm other people. Every major decision in a person’s lifetime should be up to the individual, since only they know what’s truly best for them. In a country that values freedom and individuality, a person’s right to death should be as sacred as their right to life.

A survey by the non-profit organization Dying With Dignity Canada showed that, in 2014, 84 per cent of Canadians supported assisted death. This includes euthanasia—when a patient agrees to die by the hands of a physician, and assisted suicide—when a patient dies by their own hands, but by means given by a physician. According to the Toronto Star, about 200 Canadians went through the process of physician-assisted suicide by October 2016, following its legalization.

However, The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is a Canadian organization active in posting anti-euthanasia content on their website, in hopes of changing legislation to make it illegal again. A look through their website reveals anxieties around the possible abuse of power on the part of physicians, and the potential inability of those suffering to make a logical choice about whether to live or die.

Groups that are against medically-assisted death tend to think decriminalizing it is a slippery slope which leads to a society “where the vulnerable are threatened and where premature death becomes a cheap alternative to palliative care,” according to an article in The Economist titled “The right to die.” However, it is extremely unlikely this will happen because the essential purpose of legalizing medically-assisted death is to give people authority over their own lives. The idea that it could lead to people being unjustly killed is inconsistent with the movement’s core goals.

The current laws in Canada are extremely restrictive. The legislation around medically-assisted death puts a lot of emphasis on ensuring the autonomy of the patient. According to the End-of-Life Law and Policy in Canada website, patients must make “a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure.” To say that legalizing medically-assisted death is a path towards injustice is incorrect because it is actually a step in the opposite direction.

According to the same article in The Economist, “places that have allowed assisted dying suggest that there is no slippery slope towards widespread euthanasia. In fact, the evidence leads to the conclusion that most of the schemes for assisted dying should be bolder.”

Canadian legislation ensures a patient isn’t able to go through with the whole process hastily. According to the End-of-Life Law and Policy in Canada, in Canada, in order to receive a medically assisted death, patients must submit and sign a written request to end their life in front of two witnesses, 10 days before death. Two physicians must also agree with the written agreement, which confirms the patient has an incurable medical condition that is in an advanced state and that death is foreseeable. Patients need to also be aware of other potential palliative care options.

In the end, adults should be allowed to make their own decisions, even if these choices have extreme consequences. The rhetoric around decriminalizing medically-assisted death shares many similarities with the debate concerning abortion laws. If we want to talk about slippery slopes, we should consider the ones lurking behind legislation that limits people’s autonomy over their own lives in relation to what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

In the February issue of their monthly anti-euthanasia newsletter, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition cited an article by Metro News that claims many physicians are unwilling to perform euthanasia on their patients. Based on this article, they concluded, “killing another human being is counter-intuitive to our human nature … Death with dignity is not attained by a lethal injection—it is attained by dying comfortably within a community of caring and supportive people.” Aside from the fact that medically-assisted death can still be “within a community of caring and supportive people,” I think it is up to the individual to decide what dying with dignity looks like.

It is fine if physicians are uncomfortable with the idea of suicide since the desire to live is a personal issue. It is nearly impossible for someone who doesn’t want to end their life to understand the mentality of someone who does. We should offer as much help to people as we can provide—be it through medication, therapy or other treatment—but ultimately, people should be allowed to make their own decision regarding whether or not they feel like their life is worth living.

Not everyone’s views on death are the same. Some see it as the worst thing that could ever happen to a person, and as something that is to be avoided for as long as possible. This is a valid point of view, but it is by no means universal. If someone truly believes death is more desirable than suffering, then who are we to stop them? Everyone has had unique life experiences that contribute to their worldview and personal philosophy, and they should be allowed to act according to it. Just because others don’t agree with their choices is no reason to limit their ability to make these choices.

As long as someone is deemed mentally stable by a qualified psychiatrist to make such a weighted choice, then if someone definitively decides they want to end their life, we should take them very seriously and allow them to make that decision.

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