(Editor’s note: Adrian Rhodes submitted this opinion piece in response to the April 2015 issue of the Anglican Journal, which discussed the Supreme Court decision on assisted suicide. Opinion submissions on religious topics, maximum 500 words for print and 700 words for the web, will be considered for publication. Send queries to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is correct in saying Anglicans should “…exhibit an unwavering resolve to include those most affected by our deliberations.” In response, I am writing my impressions.
I have three chronic disabilities. I have experienced substandard care; misdiagnoses, been accused of being a drug user and have been told I am not doing enough to look after myself. Now there’s another option: instead of caring, a doctor can offer to help me end it all.
I noted with sadness that one commentator was “ecstatic” and another “overjoyed” at the Supreme Court of Canada’s February ruling. I have a database with approximately 318 names of people killed by doctors, nurses, or family because they were ill, dying or disabled. Is that something to be ecstatic about?
Unbearable suffering, not defined, was mentioned. That suffering can be interpreted to the lowest common denominator. What is the minimum suffering that someone has to have in order to demand death?
One article quotes the decision directly: “The historic ruling limits doctor assisted suicides to ‘a competent person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, a disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.'”
Define limit; define competent; define clearly consents; define grievous; define irremediable; define enduring suffering. These are very flexible statements. This is an invitation to include everyone, especially the disabled, in the net of potential death.
In Canada we have instances of elder abuse. We have silent “Do not resuscitate” orders. We have the Rassouli case where doctors decided to arbitrarily end his life support. We have “slow” code blues where it looks like people are trying to save a patient when they are going through the motions. We also have increased cost-cutting and financial pressures on the medical system.
One person says: “The world we are in has changed in this decision, and in a public policy sense, it doesn’t matter much if we are for it or against it.” This hopeless quote is wrong. It matters to the disabled community, who have long been targets for death and victims of discrimination. We refuse to give in to prejudiced despair.
It matters that the disabled community are against assisted suicide: human lives are at stake. The lives of those who cannot speak, like minors, those with dementia, or those in coma or persistent vegetative states, are at stake. The Quebec Association of Social Workers rejected age limits to the proposed Bill 52 in 2013, stating that to deny a child or teen euthanasia was age discrimination and would be challenged under the Charter. The safeguard of majority age was dismissed before the law was even enacted.
People with concerns are dismissed with a patronizing “That won’t happen, dear.” I was told once “you can’t comment because you, being disabled, are too close to the situation to be objective about it.”
If I am too close, what about patients who are manipulated into accepting “do not resuscitate” orders to save money; patients denied care on the basis of disability; patients whose statements are interpreted in a manner which creates a foregone conclusion toward death or patients who cannot request death? I have real world examples in my files.
Coercion, discrimination or abuse are not noted in the April articles and that is a serious oversight. My mother was apparently abused in 2006 when she was dying of cancer. My family did not find out until after she died. Had assisted suicide been available, I am certain she would have “suddenly died” and we would not know.
Granted, there is a certain commitment to a variety of voices in the “debate” after the fact of “decriminalization.” Whether anyone listens to people who say no instead of killing them will never be known: it’s too easy to silence the marginalized. I ought to know; I am disabled, marginalized and have been silenced in my concerns. Until now. Whether I am heard and listened to is another thing entirely.