There 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.