If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?

“If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?” said Sue Rodriguez in 1991 when she asked legislators to change the law to allow for assisted suicide. It is Rodriguez’s weak voice I hear when I listen to the groups who oppose the Supreme Court’s historic decision in the Carter vs. Canada case to allow physician assisted suicide for those with intolerable physical or psychological suffering. Who is anyone to tell anyone else to suffer? It seems there are two major groups that feel they have the right to do so: The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and a religious, conservative group, the Campaign Life Coalition. Both disagree with the ruling using faulty logic.

The Campaign Life Coalition is a Christian organization (their website’s Pastor’s Corner reveals their religious backgroundthat lobbies against things they feel Yahweh frowns upon, in particular, according to their websiteabortion, euthanasia, doctor assisted suicide, reproductive and genetic technologies, cloning, infanticide, eugenics, population control, and threats to the familyTheir reasons for opposing physician assisted suicide are dogmatic ones based not on compassion, science or data but on revelation and scripture; thankfully many religious people disagree with their stance as over 80% of Christians support physician assisted suicide. Secular values appear to be further taming Christianity.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) are, according to their website, “a national human rights organization of people with disabilities working for an accessible and inclusive Canada.” They too shun reason in opposing the Court’s decision and give into the fear that those with disabilities will be victimized. One of their concerns strikes me as ironic:

The judgment makes the existence of a “grievous and irremediable medical condition”, rather than a terminal illness, one of the two primary criteria – this potentially means that all persons with a serious disability in Canada can access Assisted Suicide. 

Why should the disabled be excluded from something all other Canadians have access to? Should the disabled be sentenced to horrible pain simply because they are disabled? The CCD works to prevent marginalizing the disabled yet opposes legislation that treats them equally.

The CCD also finds fault with “intolerable suffering” because:

 …it is completely subjective and will make it difficult to review decisions of doctors like Dr. Kevorkian who felt the existence of a disability was intolerable. 

But isn’t that the point? The person suffering is going through the pain alone – they know when it is intolerable. It isn’t up to someone else to decide that they must soldier on! Do the disabled willy nilly end their lives? I suspect not!

Lastly, the CCD takes issue with the inclusion of “psychological suffering” because: 

This places people with serious mental and emotional disabilities at risk, as well as people who have not yet come to grips with their disability.

But the Court clearly specifies that the person seeking physician assisted suicide must be a “competent adult person”. Someone struggling with “serious mental and emotional disabilities” may not be competent and there are checks and balances already in place to protect those who cannot make competent decisions. I am pleased the psychological suffering is included because such pain is as real as any physical pain.

No one should tell someone else they should suffer through and this is not to say that palliative care should not be strengthened or that people with disabilities should be marginalized or abused. We can improve all these things without ignoring the suffering of those we can no longer help.

Take a look at the Recommended Reading posted on Canadian Atheist to understand more about data based decision making in this matter and read the guest post, Canadians Have a Right to Die for more details on physician assisted suicide from an author who experienced first-hand what suffering without this compassionate legislation means. Lastly, read the Supreme Court’s ruling here.

3 thoughts on “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?

  1. The religious seem to like people to suffer, its a good thing that religion is declining.

  2. Well said.

    IIRC, one of the fears of the disabled (I believe I heard this from a USA group) is that there might eventually be social pressure on some of them to end their lives. That could get very difficult to live with–literally.

    Rodriguez’s statement is extremely thought-provoking. I’d like to know how the legislators answered!

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