Ethics of Euthanasia in Quebec

Holding Hands with Elderly PatientThere is a great debate occurring in Quebec over the ethics of assisted suicide. At least that’s what the press is calling it. Typically when a publication like The Globe and Mail discusses controversial subjects being tackled by politicians, the whole charade is labeled a type of grand discourse between the public at large. In actuality, the decisions reached by these few men and women will be imposed on the masses whether they like it or not. There is no national or province-wide discussion – just minds that believe themselves enlightened enough to control society.

A bill has been proposed in Quebec that requires medical facilities to provide “end-of-life care.” To receive the treatment, the requester must be of adult age and suffering from either an incurable disease or pain (physical or psychological) so terrible it cannot be “relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.” Supporters of the measure assert that euthanasia is a humane way to go about administering relief from hardship. Opponents argue whether or not assisted suicide helps in the lifting of a traumatic burden, the act still requires the killing of one man by another. As Margaret Somerville, founding director of McGill’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, testified in a committee hearing in the Quebec’s National Assembly, the bill represents “a radical change in our shared values regarding respect for human life.” Bypassing the compassionate rationale, she asks point blankly: “is it wrong for one person to intentionally kill another? I believe that it is.”

That’s not an easy consequence to swallow, even for the most ardent supporter of euthanasia. But much like drug prohibition, common opinion is easing more in the direction of classically understood liberalism when it comes to assisted suicide. In Belgium, the practice is not just considered the last of unfortunate options, it is openly embraced by large numbers of people. In the Netherlands, one-in-thirty deaths is now the result of voluntary euthanasia. Private charities operate mobile units that bring specialized doctors to the sick who long to put an end to their lives. For the politically left, this must be considered some kind of progress. In their eyes, if man is to become supreme ruler over nature, he must have a mastery over biology to the point of imposing extinction. Historian Tim Stanley calls this forward-marching ideology as building up societies that are “shuffling towards a culture of death.”

It isn’t hard to imagine that Kevorkian back-alley murders of consent will soon enough become similar to abortion – conducted in an officialized and sterilized facility with government-subsidized doctors. As Wesley Smith notes in National Review, because the Canadian health care system is predominantly funded by tax dollars, all Québécois taxpayers will be forced to fund assisted suicide if the proposed legislation passes. It’s all part and parcel with the secularist agenda being pushed by the Legislature that is also attempting to impose its decidedly anti-religious Charter of Values. I used to scoff at spiritual alarmism over the progressive desire to undermine traditional beliefs. But with the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada being barred from voicing concern on religious liberty grounds over state-sponsored suicide, it’s hard not to suspect an insidious motive. Forcing medical practitioners to operate in direct contradiction to their conscience is not only unnecessary, but downright immoral.

From a libertarian perspective, euthanasia remains one of those grey, tricky areas as the legality of the practice is at odds with any kind of metaphysical predilection to doing what is right and good. It’s intuitively clear that the concept of self-ownership dictates that a person can choose to end their being if so desired. After all, you cannot own something you are unable to give away. If another party is to exert their will upon that which is owned by another, that action implies that possession is, at the very least, shared. This is the “prior-later” distinction of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, whereby late-comers to property are able to enforce their desires on the rightful first proprietors.

While the rule that humans own themselves remains paramount in a free society, the logic of assisted suicide isn’t quite as firm and true as one may want it to be. Ethically, the act of taking your own life may be permissible but objections can be made on the grounds of natural law. When it comes to appreciating and augmenting your humanity with actions that lead to the good life, it would be downright absurd to hold self-murder as a fulfillment of this quality. Life cannot be lived if you are dead – as tautological as that sounds.

Quebec junior health minister Véronique Hivon insists that euthanasia is “not assisted suicide. It’s really a continuum of care…” Here’s my message to Ms. Hivon: let’s not mince words here. Ending someone’s life who consents is plain old suicide. Labeling it “care” is a shaky claim, and one which runs in the face of actual salutary measures. Death is the end of life. It’s nonsensical to assert you are making life more liveable when you are consciously removing it.

On suicide in general, I am in agreement with Albert Jay Nock who wrote at the end of his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man,

I said I could not object to suicide on the ethical or religious grounds ordinarily alleged, and I saw nothing but uncommonly far-fetched absurdity in Rousseau’s plea that suicide is a robbery committed against society. My invincible objection to suicide is, if I may put it so, that it seems to me so distinctly one of the things that a person just does not do.

I agree insofar as I am blessed to not be suffering under any debilitating illnesses. If put into the position of unending pain, I could very well change my mind. In that sense, it’s hard to fault the victim of an incurable disease who decides they would have a better chance at flourishing in the afterlife.

What I find hard to accept is the case of Nathan Verheslt, who was medically assisted in taking his life because of complications that arose from a botched sex-change operation and resulting psychological pangs. Formerly a woman, Nathan underwent all the necessary surgeries to transform into man – including hormonal therapy and a mastectomy. The end result was not all that it promised. In his final words before self-termination, Verheslt declared “I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself.” The trauma was so overwhelming, the only healthy option he saw was to stop living entirely. The doctor, Wim Distelmans, who provided the euthanasia also performed a similar operation for two twin brothers that were both deaf and expected to go blind.

Psychological suffering was cited as justification for these aided suicides. Should the proposed law pass the Quebec Legislature, there will no doubt be more instances where the downtrodden see fit to take the quick way out. Every human being has the right to end what is rightfully theirs. That doesn’t make it a good or moral thing to do. My fear is that ending prohibition on euthanasia will be abused far more than it is used to alleviate real suffering. But unlike voters who wish to use the state as a controlling device, I accept that the issue is out of my hands.

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6 Responses to “Ethics of Euthanasia in Quebec”

  1. Eric Folot says:

    NB : Link between the economy (finance) and euthanasia

    Robert Evans, a professor of economics at the University of British Columbia, recognizes that non-voluntary euthanasia would be a way to improve the country's finances, but believe that it would NOT BE THE BEST WAY:

    "I would not suggest that the best way to improve the fiscal situation of Canada is to introduce a non-voluntary program of euthanasia for people over the age of 70".

    Source: Senate of Canada, Special Senate Committee on Aging , IMPLICATIONS OF AN AGING SOCIETY IN CANADA, Testimony of Mr. Robert Evans, December 10 2007, p.2: 34 , online: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/a

    In its predictions and foreseeable scenarios for the years 2007 to 2036, the " Development, Concepts and Doctrine Center " ( DCDC ) of the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom stresses that euthanasia of the elderly could become the political instrument to serve the young to reduce the economic burden of care for the elderly. I quote:

    « Declining youth populations in Western societies could become increasingly dissatisfied with their economically burdensome ‘baby-boomer’ elders, among whom much of societies’ wealth would be concentrated. Resentful at a generation whose values appear to be out of step with tightening resource constraints, the young might seek a return to an order provided by more conservative values and structures. This could lead to a civic renaissance, with strict penalties for those failing to fulfil their social obligations. IT MIGHT ALSO OPEN THE WAY TO POLICIES WHICH PERMIT EUTHANASIA AS A MEANS TO REDUCE THE BURDEN OF CARE FOR THE ELDERLY ».

    Source : United Kingdom, Ministry of Defence, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Center, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme : 2007-2036, 3d ed., 2007 à la p.79, en ligne : http://www.cuttingthroughthematrix.com/articles/s

    See also:

    Japan is considering euthanasia as a solution to the economic burden posed by population aging on society.

    See the following article : Annabel Claix , "A Japanese minister asks its citizens to die , and quickly" (January 22 2013) , online: http://www.ibtimes.com/japans-finance-minister-su

    Already in 1958, Glanville Williams , who was vice-president of the "Voluntary Euthanasia Society" and regarded as "Britain's foremost scholar of criminal law", stated :

    "Kamisar expresses distress at a concluding remark in my book in which I advert to the possibility of old people becoming an overwhelming burden on mankind. I share his feeling that there are profoundly disturbing possibilities here ; and if I had been merely a propagandist, intent upon securing agreement for a specific measure of law reform, I should have done wisely to have omitted all reference to this subject. Since, however, I am merely an academic writer, trying to bring such intelligence as I have to bear on moral and social issues, I deemed the topic too important and threatening to leave without a word".

    Source: Glanville Williams, « "Mercy- Killing" Legislation – A Rejoinder » (1958) 43 (1) Minn . L. Rev . 1 p.11 .

    Eric Folot
    Lawyer and bioethicist

  2. D A D says:

    The most fundamental right a human has is being able to determine whether and when to end their own life, for whatever reason. Judgments as to the sanity of this decision must be viewed through the prism of ultimate freedom and liberty, which trump concerns for unintended consequences.

    The morality question comes down to whose judgment is superior – the person or society.

    D A D

  3. Russ says:

    You sound exactly like the drug prohibitionists – oh no, if we end prohibition people will be free to do whatever they want to do. So its up to Jimbo Miller to impose his morality on the rest of us. I didn't know Mises Canada had so many social conservatives.

    • James E. Miller says:

      Thank you for the comment Russ. If you read my article, I specifically state that people have a right to suicide. I would never advocate the government interfere in the practice, sad as it is.

      I do have reservations on the morality of the practice though. And that comes from the unintended consequences of making it easy to end your life for even the slightest of mental pangs.

      But my overall point still remains.

      • Russ says:

        There are a number of counter arguments I could make but in the end it really doesn’t matter. Each of our starting points is our attitudes towards life and death and we build intellectual arguments to legitimize our positions.
        Over time the practice of physician assistance in dying will gain greater acceptance as have all other civil liberties.
        BTW sorry about the Jimbo comment. Sometimes I get a little riled up in these discussions.

    • David_Howden says:

      My takeaway point from the article was that euthanasia, by being publicly funded and provided for by the Quebec healthcare system, would enforce one´s morality onto another. I don´t get to excited over the prospect of paying for my own suicide, and I certainly don´t think my tax dollars should pay for someone else´s.

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