Right to die?

by Theresa Stephenson

Here in Canada, euthanasia is on the forefront of bioethical dispute. Bill C-384, which will soon go through its second debate in the House of Commons, seeks to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. “Active euthanasia” is the intentional premature termination of another person’s life by direct intervention.

We live in a time when medical treatments are advanced, and we have the ability to provide pain relief to enhance the quality of life for patients. Palliative care provides a comfortable end of life experience for those who are nearing death. Rehabilitation centres prove to be effective alternatives to help disabled patients recuperate. Euthanasia, however, offers doctors another option; instead of treatment, they have the power to give a lethal injection that ends the patient’s life.

The Hippocratic Oath provides basic moral rules for doctors to guide their actions. The first mandate is a clear prohibition of killing their patients. The laws against euthanasia, which are currently in place, are there to prevent an abuse of power; mandating doctors to provide health care and not executions.

We’re being constantly bombarded with rhetoric of a “right to die”.   Does this translate to a “right to kill”? Doctors are given the power to administer a death sentence to those who have no “quality of life”. This leads to the victimization of those with an illness, be it physical or mental. Indeed, a “slippery slope” exists in the euthanasia debate, where the inalienable right to life is denied especially to vulnerable groups.

The act of euthanasia itself devalues human life.  People’s lives should not be judged as “worth living” or not, but instead must be treated with respect and dignity — from conception to natural death.

7 thoughts on “Right to die?

  1. Reita

    Very interesting post, Theresa.
    It’s funny to note that the main thread in ‘the other side’s’ views is the devaluing of life. It becomes so much like a disposable commodity.

  2. Bruce Owens

    I say! Splendid chinwag on here! Great article, Ms. Stephenson! Many thanks to Daniel for linking this article. I need to check out this blog more often! Keep it up one and all!

  3. Pingback: Pro-Life Campus Blogs: University of Ottawa « University of Toronto Students for Life

  4. carolloving

    a very poor argument, based on repetition of rhetoric and not a lifetime of experience . . .

    go out into the community where they house the infirm and dying people (who are 40, 50, 60, years older than you) and volunteer your time or, better yet, become a nurse’s assistant for a full year in a state run nursing home.

    what have you got to lose? one year of your life? maybe, maybe not. what have you got to gain? experience and the opportunity to engage in conversation with the dying . . .

    you never mentioned the dying. why?

    carol loving, author of My Son, My Sorrow: The Tragic Tale of Dr. Kevorkian’s Youngest Patient

  5. theresa

    To be honest, I’m hesitant to respond to the comment, but I will do my best…

    Yes, suffering is difficult and terrible, but instead of terminating a life we should be making that life more comfortable, and help the patient to deal with their pain. Palliative care can provide treatment to relieve, rather than cure a terminal illness; the main goal is to help people to live more comfortably. Instead of offering such a rash and severe choice as euthanasia, we must work hard to provide (and improve) proper care. Moreover, we should prove that life’s inherent value is respected in our medical system.

    By accepting euthanasia, we accept that some lives are worth less than others, but life itself has intrinsic value. However, we lose the inherent worth when we treat a person as an object we divorce them from their dignity.

  6. vivian li

    I know I am a bit late coming into this conversation, but I must comment.

    First of all, I would like to point out that good-quality palliative care and “the right to die” can certainly co-exist — they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed , they are different things: the point of the right-to-die movement is that people should have a *choice* over the circumstances of their own lives, and this includes deciding the circumstances of their own death. If the patient in question chooses to go the route of palliative care, then nothing is stopping them. If they instead choose to end their life prematurely, then that decision should also be in their hands. The point is that the individual should have full sovereign over their own body and life. How, exactly, does giving people the option to choose death automatically undermine palliative care for others? This is a false dichotomy.

    The Hippocratic Oath is also not very applicable to this debate, as the moral codes of long ago cannot accurately apply to the situations found in modern-day life. The language contained within it is also very vague — what, precisely, does it mean to “relieve pain”? Indeed, if someone is suffering an excruciating terminal illness (which no amount of palliative care can lighten), and they petition their right to assisted suicide, but is denied it, do they not suffer more? Pain and suffering should only be defined by the individual her/himself, not by societal conceptions. I also counter your claim that doctors would be given more leeway to abuses of power over “vulnerable” groups. The threat of misuse of power exists in almost every domain of human activity; it is not unique to physician-assisted suicide, nor is it possible to eliminate it altogether. The best we can do is to come up with certain safeguards to minimize the potential for abuse. For assisted-suicide, these are already in place in most areas where it has been legalized: the patient goes through mental health tests to determine their capacity for judgment, along with the requirement that more than one physician assents to the patient’s decision.

    And it should go without saying that the “right to die” does NOT translate to a “right to kill.” There is personal choice and agency involved in the former but not the latter — this is a fundamental distinction (and the one which the right-to-die movement bases its impetus). This is why I also dispute your claim that people will become “objectified” if/when assisted-suicide is legalized; it is indeed the reverse. We objectify people by denying them the right to personal agency, which is definitely the case when assisted-suicide is criminalized.

    I would argue that life only has “intrinsic value” so long as the individual him/herself sees it so. It is not mere biological existence which grants us dignity, but rather our own evaluation and interpretation of that biological existence (life for the mere sake of life is not *living*).


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