Politics And Policy Nov 23, 2020 2:30 PM EST

Suffering is not a justification for assisted suicide

Removing the RFND criterion sends a message to the sufferers that rather than supporting them by fulfilling their unmet needs, we concede that their life would be better off not lived.

Suffering is not a justification for assisted suicide
Gerrit Van Dorland Ottawa, ON
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Mahatma Gandhi famously quipped that "the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members." With Bill C-7 currently being rammed through the House of Commons, I can't help but wonder how Canada will measure up in the long "arc of the moral universe."

If passed, Bill C-7 would eliminate multiple safeguards around assisted suicide. Most notably, the bill would remove the reasonably-foreseeable-natural-death (RFND) criterion of MAiD, which will effectively offer assisted suicide as a way out of a difficult life or time of life. It will normalize suicide as an escape from suffering, rather than merely a possible alternative to a difficult death.

In the words of Dr. Catharine Frazee, "To reinvent MAID, so that it is no longer an alternative to a painful death, but for some, instead, an alternative to a painful life, is to embrace uncritically the notion that suffering associated with disability is a burden greater than death."

Removing the RFND criterion sends a message to the sufferers that rather than supporting them by fulfilling their unmet needs, we concede that their life would be better off not lived. In other words, their burden is unworthy of our sacrifice.

Last week, 45-year-old Roger Foley, who suffers from an incurable neurological disorder, testified on C-7 before the Justice Committee from a hospital bed in London, Ont., where he grimly claimed that "assisted dying is easier to access than safe and appropriate disability supports to live."

Just four years ago, proponents of MAiD claimed it was to be a last resort for those near death, only brought to the table after all other options have been considered. Today, proponents are removing the near-death criterion, and failing to explore alternative options. It's a dark day for society when the government is looking to increase access to dying, while failing to address the shortage of palliative care and disability supports.

An upstream approach to medicine has always been to look at the root of the problem, address the source of suffering, and try to eliminate the suffering. If that fails, the next option is not to eliminate the sufferer, but rather, make the patient comfortable in their suffering, and help them find a purpose in it. As Victor Frankl famously penned in Man's Search for Meaning, "suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning."

But the burden lies not only on caregivers and legislators to assist those suffering in finding meaning, it lies on each one of us.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world... All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Those words were written shortly after the world came out of its second World War—a time when society had witnessed the consequence of failing to treat all members of the human family as a brother. Today, it appears we've largely forgotten their significance.

I believe that the individualistic nature of Western society is the primary factor driving the increasing demand for MAiD today. In an era of toilet paper hoarding, social isolation, and the abandonment of care homes, we have largely forgotten what it means to care for and love our neighbour. To be a good Samaritan is to put the needs of our neighbour before our own without expecting anything in return.

And so, while we must hold caregivers and legislators to a higher standard, we must each accept personal responsibility for failing to properly love our neighbour as a brother. Frankl noted that "being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself... the more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself."

In other words, to share the burdens of those suffering is to be human. And If there's one takeaway from this bizarre year, it's that we could all stand to be a little more of it.

Gerrit Van Dorland is a political staffer on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.

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