Oh Canada: Some thoughts on assisted suicide

A few days ago the Supreme Court struck down assisted suicide laws in Canada, deeming them unconstitutional.

I oppose this development, for many reasons, but the chief among them because I have loved ones who are vulnerable, who are in pain, and who have begged for death. Knowing that it is no longer illegal for a doctor to kill them fills me with fear for their lives as well as their ability to access adequate, appropriate medical treatment.

It is easy for healthy, able-bodied people to look at those who are suffering or who are disabled, and to think “I would never want to live that way.” It is easy for those of us in the middle class who have never experiences racism or ableism to claim that we will protect the weak and vulnerable who do want to live. We have never had to fear that a doctor would kill us out of negligence or malice. We have never had to wonder if a doctor would take our complaints seriously. We have never been filled with dread at the thought of the treatment we would receive at an emergency room. We have never experienced indifference or disgust as we have tried to obtain even just a little bit of help for our disabilities. We have never experienced paternalism, for we are young, or rich, or white, or mentally competent. We are not the kinds of people who are ignored or taken advantage of.

We have not experienced these things. But I have watched as an elderly loved one was almost operated on even though medication she was taking would have caused her to die almost instantly in the operating room. I heard as doctors argued about whether or not it would be worth it to operate on another elderly relative, despite the fact that he was otherwise perfectly healthy and, prior to his collapse, living independently (aside: a surgeon did decide to give him a chance, and he has now, a mere 6 months later, fully recovered after being on life support for weeks). I have read countless news articles on native Americans dying in emergency rooms because the doctors and nurses ignored them. I have seen doctors abandon my loved one with dementia, refuse to help his family find him care, and refuse to treat him.

Not all doctors would do these things. But doctors are human, and even those with altruistic motivations make mistakes, have prejudices, and neglect their patients once in awhile.

And now, it is legal for doctors to kill their patients. It frightens me to know that the doctors who have neglected, mistreated, or refused to even look at my loved ones, now may have the ability to also kill them.

One thing I have noticed when I have spoken out against this ruling, is that acquaintances and friends say that I cannot speak about this since I have never watched a loved one writhe in pain, beg for death, or slowly waste away.

I have seen all of those things. Just because I have not posted about them on Facebook, it does not mean that I do not have loved ones who have suffered or died painful deaths.

I am watching a loved one slowly forget everyone they know.

I have watched a sibling struggle with depression and suicide.

I have seen some of my elderly relatives wish that they would die.

I have cared for people with profound disabilities.

And despite the pain and suffering I witnessed and experienced, I still do not think it is right for a doctor to legally kill a patient. Because I have also seen how easy it is for humans to abuse any power that they might have. I have seen vulnerable people being taken advantage of, and I know that no one cares if someone dies when they are old, disabled, or part of a minority, especially if they alone with no family or friends to speak up for them.

I have also watched as other elderly relatives have begged to live, and were almost denied life-saving care.

I am against capital punishment because the risk of killing an innocent man or woman, however small, is too great.

I am against assisted suicide for the same reason. Even though it may end suffering, if even one person is killed due to neglect, racism, ableism, elder abuse, or paternalism, that is one too many, and I am not willing to sacrifice these lives.

I have been told that this is selfish. That I should be willing to let my grandparents be killed against their wishes in order to let someone else end their own suffering. I have also been told that I should simply help my sibling die if that is what is really desired, despite that sibling being young, able-bodied, with a long and bright future ahead of them, and despite the fact that they are now on a road to recovery.

To these people, I say that it is you who are selfish. You are so absorbed with what you yourself would want, that you cannot see how your desires hurt those who are weaker than yourselves. Those who are old, disabled, or mentally ill. You are willing to directly cause their deaths, even admit that you do not care if they die, in order to live and die comfortably yourself.

You are selfish, and you are hurting people. I only hope you can realize that before it is too late.

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