Physician-assisted depression

Posted 02.11.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Quebec's physician-assisted dying program has won a lot of media treatment and comment. Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the feds to come up with an equivalent law or procedure, the subject is generating even more emotion.

Many of the non-religious objections include promoting better palliative care across the country. If the ill elderly can at least live relatively pain-free and in a caring environment, there would be less need for assisted dying. This makes sense.

However, there remains a big question, one raised last year by an American surgeon, who asked why are we opting for a longer life, without any thought of the quality of that long life? If life is painful and incapacitated, due to terminal illnesses, or cancer, what is the purpose in prolonging it?

Another question is, whose life is it? One's life certainly does not belong to the state or to the College of Physicians. Nor does it belong to any religious creed. Doesn't it belong to the one living it? Or does the spouse, the family, even the immediate community have some claim on each person's life? Must be so, since we seem determined to tsk-tsk anyone who would approve a suicide, no matter the conditions.

Or is palliative care too limited? Isn't it the larger health care system and the attitudes of its members -- specifically, faced with terminal pain and no access to suicide, shouldn't a patient be allowed all the pain-killing drugs they need, without our prudish tsk-tsking, again, about addiction dangers. A terminally ill patient becomes addicted? What's wrong with that, exactly? Isn't our morality getting in the way of our moral choices?

And for better health-care, don't we need more 'boots on the ground,' more doctors, specialists, and nurses?

It has been said that the professional associations play a big role in limiting the number of doctors produced -- if so, and however indirectly, that's condemning a lot of people to no-care. Although it isn't individual doctors, isn't their professional association responsible for this two-facedness, aided by a cash-short government.

And as for religious objections, we must ignore these claims, demands, and arguments. Their god prefers that humans suffer, rather than exit without His approval? It would be far nobler for religious people to accept the religious duty of helping fellow souls depart well and peacefully as some Eastern religions do.

For those resisting assisted dying, one more consideration remains: a huge upgrading and facilitating of mental-health services. Apparently many suicides and many seeking help to die do so from mental health difficulties. Depression is the big one. Should assisted-dying be open to the depressed?

One standard for assisted dying is that the pain or illness must be terminal. That's clear with cancer or degenerative diseases, massive injuries, or genetic catastrophes. But is depression un-curable? And what about the possibility that research may develop a cure sometime for one of these other incurable diseases? No easy answers, even if 'No' is the easiest answer of all.


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