Medical ethics is a hot topic in my world these days. What do we do when our bodies rebel? Who decides what we, and others acting in our interests, are permitted to do in response to our inconvenient bodies?
This morning I was doing some online reading, and found this article about physician assisted suicide. I’m concerned about how vague the proposed parameters are for the introduction of this practice into the Canadian healthcare system. I understand and sympathize with the reasoning behind the introduction of the practice, and its purported intent to relieve terminal suffering and even to prevent premature suicides in patients facing degenerative illnesses, but I believe that its widespread acceptance will have the unfortunate effect of stunting the development of new and comprehensive methods and protocols for supporting people experiencing chronic illness or pain, palliative patients, and people dealing with severe and continued psychological suffering.
As a person who lives with depression and anxiety, I fear the repercussions of an individual, feeling hopeless and without options, having medical professionals agree with their assessment of their situation, and essentially confirm to them that their life is not worth living.
Certainly, if assisted suicide is going to become an option in Canadian healthcare, I would like to see it restricted to majority-age individuals who are facing a demonstrable physical incapacity to end their own lives, should they choose to, without such assistance. The broad terminology of “intolerable,” “grievous,” “irremediable,” suffering admits extension beyond such narrow cases.
Will doctors be permitted to offer assisted suicide as an option to their patients (as opposed to the patient bringing it up)? Given the authority afforded doctors, could this be viewed as coercive? Will healthcare professionals be penalized for objecting to the practice?
We are uncomfortable, and ill-equipped to deal with suffering, and what is often the drawn-out process of dying. Broad availability of assisted suicide will exacerbate this discomfort, and that is something we as a society cannot afford now, especially in a population experiencing higher life expectancies wherein more of us will contend with age-related health issues. We need to develop and hone methods for coping with and alleviating suffering, both psychological and physical. We need to deal, honestly and straightforwardly, with bodies that malfunction and decay. I believe that to truly accord dignity – in life and in death – to the suffering, we need firstly to tend these bodies, however they fail. Bodies, people, are not disposable. Assisted suicide, if we are to admit it into our healthcare system, should be nothing other than the most extreme contingency plan.
The language of self-direction and choice is prominent in our discourse about assisted suicide and also abortion. Abortion was the topic of another article I happened upon this morning. I have no desire to argue about whether or not abortion should be legal. It is legal in Canada, and I am going to work from that reality.
I personally believe that people who oppose abortion on moral grounds ought to spend their energy supporting health and social initiatives, such as access to maternal healthcare, maternity/parental leave, and contraception, so as to make abortion unnecessary where possible. As a person who deals with infertility, however, I find the language of “choice,” in reference to family planning and parenthood specifically, and our health and bodies more generally, to be disingenuous and misleading. This denies us the resources to deal with life’s uncertainty, particularly as relates to bodily suffering.
In the article linked above, the author makes three statements that I find particularly problematic.
“My husband of 20 years and I became parents when we had built a home to nurture our children.”