Death or life: the euthanasia controversy
• A Commons committee holds hearings on the Robert Wenman bill (intended to protect doctors who might have hastened the deaths of terminally ill patients);
• The State of Washington holds a referendum on legalized euthanasia (it lost, but in a very close vote, 54 to 46 per cent);
• Derek Humphrey’s suicide book Final Exit, is a bestseller.
(A Montreal woman committed suicide after taking cyanide. The 48-year-old woman was found barricaded in her apartment with a copy of Final Exit on her lap, open to the chapter on cyanide poisoning.)
Suddenly, wrote Frank Jones in a blistering column in the Toronto Star early last November, Canadians and Americans seem obsessed with the idea of killing themselves or having doctors kill them.
The whole debate, Jones declared, was based on a facile lie: that the taking of your own life or another’s can be a neutral act, a matter-of-fact occurrence with no larger consequences. He felt pity for doctors who had to make difficult decisions in the last hours of their patients’ lives; but to give them the right to take life perverts the nature of their calling.
He quoted a friend who has dealt with many suicides as saying that it is not a solitary act but “a brutal act of psychological violence, a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
• A Gallup Poll conducted in the first week of October shows that 75 per cent of Canadians think doctors should be allowed to end the life of an incurably ill patient through mercy killing, if the patient had made a formal request in writing. Only 17 per cent say “No.”
• Joseph Sauder, 77, dies in November 1991 at Wellesley Hospital, Toronto, after receiving a lethal dose of medicine not prescribed by his doctor. A male nurse, Scott Mataya, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with his death.
• Toronto police then re-opens their investigation into the suspicious death of an 85-year-old woman, Minnie Sitzer, at the Wellesley in 1990.
Finally, in Ottawa, Liberal MP Don Boudria, who maintains that the Wenman bill will open the door for a system similar to that in Holland, expressed surprise at the reaction of Father Everett O’Neill, President of the Catholic Health Association of Canada, which represents 160 hospitals. Father O’Neill was quoted as saying the bill would merely make legal “what is good medical practice today, that the bill was consistent with Catholic teaching, and that the measures described in it were being practiced right across the country and were moral.”
Thus he contradicted the CHAC’s own November submission to the Commons Committee dealing with the Wenman bill which said it was “fraught with pitfalls.”
A new holocaust
James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family International, has said that opening the doors to euthanasia would result in a holocaust of assisted suicides and homicides which would outnumber even abortions in the U.S. and Canada. The comparison between abortion and euthanasia is often made.
In an editorial in the Western Catholic Reporter at the end of September, Glen Argan pointed out that the drive for so-called mercy-killing should not be surprising in a country which has ha legalized abortion for more than twenty years. The justification in both cases is similar; that individuals have the right to kill a human life, if its continuation would cause suffering or inconvenience. This premise allows no room for a loving God. If we had a deeper sense of Him, “We would see ourselves as stewards of creation rather than lords and masters of the earth and our bodies.”
A similar warning about the connection between the legalization of abortion and the thrust for legalized abortion – long forecast by pro-lifers – was made by Saskatchewan’s Prairie Messenger (editorial November 15).
An editorial in the Catholic Register (November 23, 1991) pointed out that the defenders of euthanasia “use the same type of specious arguments as those which the abortionists use; in the name of compassion they maintain that it is cruel to allow the terminally ill to linger through inevitable suffering.” “We do not belong to ourselves,” said the editor, “and never have the right to intentionally kill or help kill another human being.” In a world that devalues human life and trivializes the human spirit, it is necessary to condemn this fatal trend.
A week later the Register carried a column by Robert J. Foley pointing out that until recently the Hemlock Society’s arguments for the taking of human life were brushed aside as the ravings of a lunatic fringe, but now they have gained a certain respectability.
The Catholic Church, however, regards murder, genocide, abortion and euthanasia as intrinsically evil, and has spelled this out many times. On the other hand, the Church does not advocate the maintenance of life at any cost: “Although we must not prematurely terminate a human life, neither are we asked by God to prolong it.”
On November 10, Vancouver R.C. Archbishop Adam Exner took part in a CBC-TV panel discussion of “Euthanasia: a right to die?” “I believe that we are not the owners of our lives, that no human being may dispose of his life or of someone else’s,” he said. “We should provide all the comfort possible, all the painkillers possible, and let the Owner of Life decide when the moment of exit is to come.”
Responding to the argument that religion ought to be kept out of the discussion the Archbishop replied, “I am being told that I am not to try and impose my ethical views on others, but I fear that somebody else may impose their secularist, utilitarian ethics on me.”
In an excellent Globe and Mail column on November 19, Ian Gentles of the Human Life Research Institute, emphasized the frightening implications of the Dutch experience. He also pointed out the dangers of turning doctors into licensed killers, and said if we follow the road pointed out by the Wenman bill there will be a sharply increased demand for the services of hospitals, such as Catholic and Salvation Army ones, which maintain their traditional commitment to preserving rather than taking life.