Your right to die impacts everyone's right to live

  The following column was printed in the Calgary Herald
 on April 25, 2013.
By Susan Martinuk, Calgary Herald, April 25, 2013
Another Canadian has travelled to Europe to be put to death on, what she believes, are her own terms. To most of us, those terms are better known as euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Seventy-two-year-old Susan Griffiths of Winnipeg suffered from multiple systems atrophy. She had lobbied for the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada and, last week, just prior to her death, she sent a letter with this request to Parliament. Fortunately, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has denied the request, yet a friend claims that Griffiths' lobbying efforts will now be her legacy to this world.
Several months ago, Ruth Goodman, a Vancouver social activist, chose to end her life at the age of 91. Not because she was ill, but because she was tired and her friends were dying. She made an emotional public plea for legalizing the right to die in a posthumous letter sent to the media. She wanted people to have the right to "choose how and when to end their lives."
Thursday's Globe and Mail seemed all too eager to focus on these emotional stories, rather than report the unbiased facts of their deaths as one would expect of a newspaper. Perhaps by way of justification, it cited a growing trend in the number of Canadians who want to share their end-of-life stories as part of a grassroots movement to change the laws against assisted suicide. The Globe seems only too happy to oblige in such cases, choosing to glamorize those who take their own lives, rather than balancing its coverage with stories that encourage people to continue to live.
The Globe even reminded Canadians of Sue Rodriquez, the original "suicide story" that clawed at our national emotions, and her poignant plea for assisted suicide: "If I cannot give consent to my own death, then whose body is this? Who owns my life?"
In the article, former MP Svend Robinson, who had lobbied Canadians on behalf of Rodriquez, says Canadians admired her because "she put her life right out there and that's what grabbed people - the courage she showed."
So there it is - the classic left-wing argument against almost everything. Not based on facts or statistics, or what has happened in other countries, but on emotional narratives that are loaded with words like compassion, "I feel," and claims of "my body, "my choice" and the ignorant and naive assumption that this "will only affect me."
In sharp contrast, the reality is that giving individuals the right to die "on their own terms" has plenty of public implications. First of all, it involves the assistance of another and the assurance that society will not stand in the way. Therefore, it is very much a public, not private, act. By giving doctors the right to help their patients die, the legalization of euthanasia would also influence the kind of medical care that the rest of society receives. We currently have a medical profession that is dedicated to supporting life, and is not compromised by some within it who will happily help you to die. This is societal progress; in the time of Hippocrates, a healer/doctor could just as easily kill you as heal you, depending on the desires of those paying the bill.
A February 2013 survey by the Canadian Medical Association found that just 16 per cent of Canada's doctors would be willing to perform euthanasia. Ultimately, Canadians have the gall (and the ignorance) to call for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide because we currently have no qualms about trusting our care and our lives to doctors when we go to a hospital or clinic. We have yet to experience living in a nursing home or going to a hospital where a doctor has the additional option of taking the patient's life. That is why it's instructive for us to consider what has happened in other nations:
Consider the Netherlands and the decade of euthanasia statistics reported in a 2012 study in The Lancet medical journal. The number of "assisted" deaths there has increased 73 per cent since 2003. About 23 per cent of cases are not reported to a review committee, as legally required. Over the years, physician-assisted suicide has morphed into the less provocative term "alleviation of symptoms," and, in 41.2 per cent of deaths classified as such, the physician did not discuss the decision with the patient, relatives or another physician.
In Belgium, recent statistics show that 32 per cent of all assisted deaths occur without patient consent, and only 52.8 per cent of assisted deaths are reported.
So does legalizing the so-called right to die provide any assurance that anyone will die "on our own terms?" Not likely.
Instead, if legalized, the individual right to die will have huge implications on my (and everyone else's) right to live.
Don't be fooled - euthanasia has nothing to do with "my individual choice" or "my right to die." It's a very slippery slope that affects all members of society.