On dying and dignity

Posted 09.26.14

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Canada's doctors proposed at the their annual convention this summer that euthanasia be left to individual doctors. Those who disagree with assisted suicide would not be required to assist their patients. Sounds good and democratic -- for doctors.

Isn't the medical profession about patients and their ailments and, less so, about the personal moral dilemmas of doctors?

And what about their patients?

I'm a senior and, believe me, the topic of assisted suicide comes up often. What I'm hearing is that many seniors -- the majority I talk to -- do not want to waste away in their final years, a burden to their families and the health care system. Living with pain, every day filled with pills and medical procedures -- just ask seniors.

Opinions vary -- my mother, of good Irish Catholic stock, wouldn't hear of it, despite her almost-silent pleas to be "taken" over the last five years of her life.

This week another senior told me he anticipates making his way to his back yard in mid-winter and curling up for his departure. Everyone has an opinion, and since these opinions impact their lives, we should at least ask the seniors -- and listen.

Yes, many opinions are simplistic. The fellow curling up outside in the freezing cold has to still get himself outside. A lot of seniors are unable to take any initiative, because they are infirm. Don't they deserve the help they are asking for? Are we really as moral as we think when we insist they remain immobile in their beds, with no quality of life -- just to satisfy our fear that assisted suicide is, somehow, a form of murder?

This is a famous slippery slope. There is opportunity here for abuse. And that is the reason for clear, careful steps, for proper procedures, for double-confirmations, etc, rather than the reason for chucking the whole concept overboard to satisfy our medieval beliefs, which, I might add, we seem incapable of examining.

If a doctor does not "believe" in euthanasia, that belief should be respected completely -- for his/her own life. What right does a doctor have to impose his/her personal beliefs on us? Yes, doctors are part of the process, but does that give them the right to over-ride their patients?

If the law allows assisted suicide, under multiple safeguards, why can a doctor say no? Can a nurse impose her moral view on her hospital? Can a hospital administrator? No. No more than a doctor has any right to refuse to wear a seat belt when driving. The law applies to everyone, equally.

Doctors may say they have made an oath to protect life, but death is an intimate part of life. There is no life without death.

The key word is dignity, not just "dying."

The process has to retain a dignity, the patient and doctors have to be treated with dignity. The setting, the planning, the family -- treated with dignity and respect. As for the religious view, that's private.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.14