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Dignity? -- A Look at Euthanasia, Part 1/3

Deacon Pedro

Thursday, November 19, 2009

EuthAs many of you know, the Canadian Parliament is currently considering a bill to legalize euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Bill C-384, proposed by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde, would alter the criminal code to allow doctors to cause quick and painless death if a patient “appears lucid,” is aware of other treatment options and has made two written requests. As a private member’s bill, C-384 already received one hour of debate on October 2 and is scheduled for a second debate on December 2 with a vote the following day. I’ve already written a bit about this and why we should be concerned. I promised to write a bit more about it to help clarify some of the issues and to explain why I am concerned.
Four years ago, while we were producing the documentary Turning the Tide, I read a book titled Final Exit by Derek Humphry. I found the book to be completely shocking and even today am amazed at the fact that it is real.
In 2006, almost to reassure myself that these people are not fictional, I walked around the display tables at the Right to Die conference in Toronto. What I saw and learned gave me the chills. Let me explain. The book's subtitle is "The practicalities of self-deliverance and assisted suicide for the dying." In case you're new to this, "self-deliverance" means, killing yourself.
So there you have it.
This is the "how-to" book on killing yourself. And to emphasise to you how sick and confused our society is, this book is on the New York Time's Best-Seller list.
Derek Humphry is the founder of the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization -- ERGO -- and the founder of the National Hemlock Society, an organisation that has redefined itself as "Compassion & Choices". The Hemlock Society was an end-of-life care organisation for those suffering from incurable illnesses. In 2003 they changed their name to End of Life Choices. In 2005 they joined forces with the Compassion in Dying Organisation to become what they are now: Compassion & Choices. Their vision is to help build a society where everyone receives state-of-the-art care at the end of life, and a full range of choices for dying in comfort, dignity and control. What this means, of course is that if it is your choice to end your life, because you can't deal with the pain, suffering and the "indignity" of disease and dying, you should be able to. Of course, that is compassion and that is choice. It also means that if you don't want to kill yourself, if you believe in quality palliative and hospice care, they can't help you. Not sure how that is going to build a society where everyone receives state-of-the-art care at the end of life, and a full range of choices for dying in comfort, dignity and control (well, I can see the control part).
And we live in a society where we have come to believe that freedom means choice. That's why I have access to 1000 TV channels, why I can go to a food court and choose between 20 or 30 different fast-food options. Pretty soon, someone is going to get sued (in the States, of course) because someone else didn't offer them enough "choice". And someone will decide that it is a basic human right to have "choices."
Back to the book: Mr. Humphry's first book is called Jean's Way, where he tells the compelling (I'm not being sarcastic, it is very compelling) story of his first wife Jean's debilitating illness and subsequent assisted death… by him. Since then, he's assisted his father-in-law and made the call to disconnect his brother from life support (but despite what he says, this isn't euthanasia or assisted death- simply the removal of extra-ordinary care, without which his brother died a natural death -- not at all the same thing). Mr. Humphry is also the author of Let Me Die Before I Wake and now has several editions of Final Exit. He lives in Oregon (where else would he live? I guess, Holland) He's British. So… this book is the how-to book. It is very complete. It even includes a checklist. It explains how to handle your financial affairs, how to make sure you don't hurt (too much) your loved ones, what pill combinations to take, which ones not to take - what their effects are. There is even a diagram showing step-by-step how to kill yourself using a helium tank and a bag covering your head (this, it seems, in combination with non-prescription sleeping pills is the best way to go). And he includes the address of where you can order this "exit bag" kit: for $50. It's an address in Victoria, BC. At the conference, I saw a presentation on a new device that can be attached to the helium tank in order to regulate the rate that the helium is being released. Normal helium tanks don't come with this. But someone in Australia has come up with the solution to our problems!
Now -- to be fair, Mr. Humphry does make it very clear that this book is not for everyone. He is very clear to warn us that if we believe in God, or any higher power, or if we believe that we don't have a choice or that death is bearable no matter what, or if you are depressed, then this book is not for you. This book is for competent people who are enduring hopeless physical suffering, who are in a hopeless medical condition, whose illness is unbearable and who wish to have control over their death, so as to do so with dignity and comfort. The Australian Right-To-Die group's motto is, "I have a right to a peaceful death." The aim of the book is, in Humphry's words, to "allow terminally ill persons painlessly and legally to end their suffering." This is a book for (rational) people looking for options.
Shopping… let's say.
He says that he doesn't advocate the killing of the disabled or what the Nazis did. He also says that many depressed people, some teen-agers even, have used his book to assist them in committing suicide. He says this is unfortunate, but that he cannot be responsible for those people. I guess he has his disclaimer. It's interesting to note that when this book first came to Canada, it was banned, the ban was challenged in court and the challengers won. I guess the winning argument was that we have an "intrinsic human right to choose the manner, form and time in which we are to die."
I must admit, the book is very compelling. Mr. Humphry makes a very good case for his arguments. However, if you read carefully, you will note some flaws in his arguments. You will also note some red-flags. Tune in for my blog installment next week, and I'll tell you all about them.
Until then, check out our Turning the Tide page for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, or visit the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.

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