“I want to die with dignity.”

As an extension of our series on euthanasia and assisted suicide, we’re diving into COLF‘s “quick answers to common arguments” document. Here’s argument number two.

“I want to die with dignity.”

There is nothing dignified about swallowing a pill or getting a needle that will ensure a quick death. Euthanasia does not restore dignity; it eliminates the sometimes lonely and guilt ridden person in a way which is not always as painless as people would like to think.

I’m not so sure about questioning the painlessness (though that’s a legitimate practical concern), but the key in this response is that euthanasia does not restore dignity.

This is a deep question: Where do we derive our dignity from?

Why do we fear losing it in an end of life situation? I think the problem is that people feel that a lack of control or a loss of some certain abilities deprive us of our dignity. How could seeking death possibly heal that? I think that the real problem is that we’re looking for dignity and self-worth from the wrong sources. Our dignity doesn’t come from how able we are, or from what we are; it comes from who we are. The deeper problem is a culture that has a false basis for dignity and value.

Euthanasia is an escape from the challenge of discovering the true basis of our dignity, not a solution.

Dignity is not determined by physical or mental health, by autonomy or by usefulness to society. Human dignity is founded on the inherent worth of each human person, which can never be taken away by external factors or circumstances. The simple fact of being human gives us a dignity which no other
living beings possess.

Hey, what do you know? I wrote my comments on the first point before reading the second…

Palliative care provides a dignified death by giving patients the pain management and the social, emotion and spiritual support they require to live a good death with courage. Giving this support, of course, takes time and perseverance

And there’s the practical response — there’s a better way.

We are relational beings capable of loving and caring for others. Our sense of dignity is inextricably tied to the respect that we have for each other as human beings. If people feel they are loosing their dignity, it is our responsibility to make them feel valued again. How do they see themselves in our eyes? We all have the power to respond with friendship, love and solidarity to the illness of others in order to uphold and protect their “right to life” until the moment of natural death. We need each other in death as we need each other in life.

Absolutely. If someone feels undignified, the compassionate response is to restore their sense of dignity, to treat them with respect. Killing someone in response to a loss of a sense of dignity is a cop out, and it doesn’t restore anyone’s dignity — it eliminates the person in question so that we don’t have to make them feel valued again. We need to be there for those who are suffering. Providing a suffering person with death is not an adequate response to their real need to feel loved.


Previous posts in this series:

“It’s my life, my death, my freedom, my choice, my right!”

As an extension of last week’s series on euthanasia and assisted suicide, we’ll be diving into COLF‘s “quick answers to common arguments” document. This is the first argument.

“It’s my life, my death, my freedom, my choice, my right!”

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not private matters. These acts involve third parties such as physicians, pharmacists, family and friends who then have to carry the guilt of having killed another human being.

As with the abortion debate, we see proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide falsely promoting the idea that this is a private matter. Like abortion, when tax payer dollars are going to fund it, the matter is placed firmly in the public square.

For many vulnerable citizens, legalizing euthanasia would only provide the illusion of choice – choice as a lie. Given the reality of Canada’s aging population and growing healthcare costs, they might be forced to accept euthanasia in order to avoid financial strain on the healthcare system. Their so-called “right to die” might soon become a “duty to die”.

As Barbara Kay explained over the summer, Legalized euthanasia empowers no one.

Changing Canadian law to allow euthanasia would have a profound effect on many vulnerable people. Even if euthanasia respects the autonomy of some, it endangers the lives of many others including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and those struggling with depression or severe illness. Such a law would be a guaranteed recipe for abuse of the vulnerable; it would be incapable of protecting them from coercion by family members and others.

This is an inevitable result of considering “death” to be appropriate “care.”

No one is an island. My choices and decisions have an impact on others and on society as a whole. My freedom and my rights have limits; they must respect the freedom and rights of other people. Personal freedom, self-determination and individual rights are not absolutes. They can be overridden to protect other values in society (for example to protect the rights of vulnerable citizens and the common good).

This strikes me as an important but more challenging argument to make. I haven’t participated in enough debates or discussions around euthanasia and assisted suicide to know how right-to-die proponents would react… but certainly worthy of discussion.


Previous posts in this series:

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Why Not?

This is the second post in our series on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Come see Alex Schadenberg speak at UofT tomorrow at 6pm in the SMC Senior Common Room for the highlight event.


The Catholic Organization for Life and Family has released a downloadable PDF booklet: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Why Not? As the Catholic Register explains, “the booklet lists 12 common arguments in the pro-euthanasia mindset, then sets out to obliterate them with concise, bullet-like points based on natural law.”

The arguments seem fairly focused on reason — non-Catholics should be encouraged to read it as well.

The booklet is free to copy and distribute, so I’m going to dive into each of the arguments over the next few weeks, beyond the scope of this week’s series. Today, we’ll start with the introduction:

According to some surveys, three-quarters of Canadians would favour the legalization of euthanasia. Above all, they fear one day becoming a burden and having their lives unduly prolonged in suffering.

Given the immense confusion surrounding euthanasia, it is reasonable to question these statistics and some unreliable surveys. It is more than likely that the majority of citizens would change their minds if they were properly informed.

However, a very effective lobby is manipulating words and emotions in order to promote euthanasia and assisted suicide. For example, some erroneously use the phrase “passive euthanasia” to describe the withdrawal of futile medical treatment.

The need to dispel confusion by returning words to their true meaning has become
urgent. It is also important to recognize euphemisms for “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide”: voluntary interruption of life… active aide in dying… hastened death… physician assisted death…

To begin with, it is important to clarify the distinction between euthanasia and the refusal of aggressive treatment (see Quick Answer no. 3). When death is imminent and inevitable, it is perfectly legitimate to refuse medical procedures which are disproportionate to the desired results or too burdensome for the patient and his or her family.

But what is euthanasia? Euthanasia is the intentional killing of someone, with or without his or her consent, either by act or omission. By killing the person, one seeks to eliminate all aspects of that person’s life including the pain, suffering or humiliation of being in need of help. The person who commits euthanasia must intend, for whatever reason, to kill the other and must cause his or her death.

In the case of assisted suicide, a person kills himself or herself with the help of another person who provides him or her with the means to carry out the act.

[...]

The “quick answers” presented here provide appropriate responses to common
arguments put forward by proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Check out the booklet [PDF] or stay tuned to our blog!