Abetting suicide

National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

For nearly 50 years now, Canadians have lived with a perverse legal regime that allows some hospital-based physicians to engage in the mass slaughter of perfectly healthy babies in the womb, while mandating other physicians in these same hospitals to do whatever they can to save the lives of the frailest and most vulnerable of human beings at the beginning of life.

Now our legislators are set to take the madness even further. Just as an array of federal and provincial politicians have been flying into remote Attawapiskat, Ont., in a desperate effort to come up with a remedy for an appalling epidemic of attempted suicide by indigenous children and young adults, Parliament has undertaken to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Indigenous Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has led the way. During an emergency Parliamentary debate on the Attawapiskat suicide crisis on April 12, she deplored “the incredibly sad situation that exists in … so many indigenous communities across this country, where we see conditions of poverty, despair and lack of hope.” Then, just two days later, she introduced into the Commons Bill C-14 to create a federal legislative framework for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide across Canada.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette, indigenous Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, will have nothing to do with this folly. He is resolutely opposed to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide under the pretence of medical assistance in dying on the ground that it is imperative especially within indigenous communities, “to fight the spirit of suicide.” He warns: “I am afraid if we open this little door right now we won’t be able to fight that suicide spirit.”

Liberal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett is a family physician. Nonetheless, she would have us believe that there is no connection between suicide and medical assistance in dying. To her fellow Liberals who express concern that indigenous youth are apt to confuse the two, she retorts: “Therefore, we’ve got to do a better job explaining the difference.”

That, of course, is plain nonsense. There is no difference between physician-assisted suicide and “medical aid in dying” as conceived by Wilson-Raybould: The primary purpose of her bill is to exempt physicians and nurse practitioners from the ban on assisting in a suicide in the Criminal Code so they can help grievously ill patients to commit suicide.

Ouellette and others have good reason to fear that licensing physicians to commit assisted suicide will encourage more troubled indigenous youths to think that killing themselves is the best way to end their suffering. And the same goes for a great many other vulnerable Canadians, including the elderly, bereaved and all who suffer with a severe mental illness.

The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Greene-McCreight is a distinguished theologian and  Episcopal Chaplain at Yale University who is afflicted with bipolar disorder. In an illuminating book Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, she recounts her excruciating personal battle with suicidal thoughts during the long struggle to bring her disease under control.

“I experienced much suicidal thinking and wishing,” she relates. “This in itself distressed me because I as a Christian believe that life is a gift from God. It is to be lived to the glory of God. How ungrateful was I that I would want to return it to the Giver? But it was a gift I no longer wanted from a lover I no longer knew.”

Let us thank God for all the family, friends and medical caregivers who helped Greene-McCreight survive through her dark night of the soul.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15 to 34. To alleviate this appalling tragedy, our legislators and judges should be attempting to do whatever they can to safeguard the lives and well-being of everyone, young and old, who is plagued with suicidal thoughts.

And that goes, in particular, for Canadians whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable. Given the huge advances over the past 50 years in pain control and other forms of symptom relief, Parliament should focus on assuring that all terminally ill patients die in dignity with the best of palliative care.

Instead, under command of the Supreme Court of Canada, Parliament has introduced a legislative framework for physician-assisted suicide. It is the worst calamity in Canadian law since Parliament allowed the Supreme Court of Canada to abolish all legal protection for the life of babies in the womb.

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