Barbara Kay: Keep the state out of the killing rooms of the nation


National Post - Wednesday February 11th, 2015

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Commentary following last Friday’s Supreme Court decision on assisted suicide has filled the pages of this and other Canadian publications. Opinion for and against the ruling has been intelligently debated. But I have yet to see a column that focuses directly on my own concerns, so here is my two cents.

I am firmly in the anti-euthanasia camp, as my last two columns have indicated. There is no question in my mind that once euthanasia is permitted to those capable of self-determination, “equality” activists will demand – and get – euthanasia for those who also suffer terribly, but are incapable of assenting to their own physician-enabled deaths. That has been proven to be the case in the Netherlands and Belgium.

I propose that we uncouple assisted suicide from the medical system and make it a legal, but purely private act.

Some readers assume that this also puts me in the anti-assisted-suicide camp as well. That is not the case. I find I have a more ambivalent position on this question. I support the right of any individual who finds life unbearable for whatever reason to take his own life. I therefore cannot in conscience refuse someone yearning to die, but incapable of carrying out his wish, the right to ask for assistance in achieving that goal.

I do not believe, however, that the right to control one’s own exit in life confers the right to the state’s assistance in carrying it out. I consider suicide to be an intensely private act that has benefit for the individual who chooses it, but has no benefit whatsoever for society (apart from freeing up hospital beds and reducing costs, a clear conflict of interest). So it is the words “physician-assisted” that bothers me.

The physician’s role is to heal and comfort, not to kill or provide the means to kill. Physicians in Canada work for the state and are paid by the state, and therefore by you and me. By asking me to contribute to someone’s suicide, a private act becomes public. So letters to the editor with statements like “Who is Barbara Kay or anyone else to tell me their personal beliefs about what is right…?” ring hollow for me. I have no right to judge you if you slash your wrists in your bathtub, Mr. Hugh McCoy (Letters, Feb 10), but if I am implicated in funding your death, I have every right to register my discomfort with that fact.

There is no particular reason why either euthanasia or assisted suicide should be considered as part of a continuum of medical treatment for the suffering. (Quebec used the words “medical aid in dying” in its euthanasia Bill 52, but medical aid in dying is already in place; it’s known as palliative care. The words were a political ploy, used to do an end run around the Criminal Code.) Many people believe that since palliative care treatment includes sedation for terminal patients in intolerable pain, and since constant sedation hastens death, it is morally the same as euthanasia. It is not. There is a bright line between easing the transition from waning life to death, and a lethal injection to end life. Every doctor knows this.

I propose that we uncouple assisted suicide from the medical system and make it a legal, but purely private act. In Switzerland, not just physicians but ordinary citizens are permitted to assist people to die. If you accept assisted suicide as a right, then this makes sense. Assisted suicide is not rocket science. At the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, which could serve as a model, it is achieved by a barbiturate cocktail. Clients pay for the service, which is regulated for quality control by the government, like many other private services. Since one’s stay is no more than 24 hours, costs should not be high, and would not be high in a competitive market. I can envision mobile units, where one dies in the comfort and privacy of one’s home, surrounded by loved ones, surely preferable to the impersonal clinical atmosphere of a hospital.

To those who would argue that cost should not be an inhibiting factor, I suggest life insurance policy riders offered at a modest premium. It should cost very little if signed onto in youth, and since very few people would avail themselves of the option, insurance companies would find it a lucrative investment. As a final resort for those with no insurance, I am sure there are numerous physicians – we know that many physicians are fiercely supportive of the right to assisted suicide – who would offer the few necessary hours pro bono on their own time to make up the shortfall. Needless to say, this service should not be taxable; the government should not benefit from it financially.

There are Canadians who believe assisted suicide should never be legal. There are those who think assisted suicide should be legal for whatever reason. Most of us, like the SCC, are somewhere in between. I have staked out a position that satisfies my commitment to the individual’s right to choose, my wish not to be even indirectly involved in a fellow citizen’s suicide, my discomfort with the expansion of physicians’ role into places many of them don’t want to go, and my belief that the state has no place in the killing chambers of the nation.