Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Canadian Quadriplegic Addresses Euthanasia Laws.

Steven Fletcher, a Canadian C4 quadriplegic, writes today for the NationalPost that he supports the proposed euthanasia bill there, preferring that patients have a choice to end their pain and suffering, but asks that it not be the only choice:

A critical element that informs our discussion of euthanasia is the level of support that we, as individuals and as a society, provide to people who have reached such difficult crossroads as mine. This means more than just controlling pain and keeping a person alive. The prospect of a good quality of life bolsters the will to live. With proper medical and social assistance, people who want to end their lives often change their perspective about life itself. In my case, my own wish to be euthanized in the time after my accident (suicide by my own hand was not an option, as I was trapped in my body) changed as I began to received more support.

There are situations in which all the resources in the world cannot help. Physical pain cannot always be managed. Sue Rodriguez suffered from a degenerative condition called ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Doomed to suffocate as her muscles and lungs collapsed, this courageous woman went all the way to the Supreme Court requesting the right to die. She was denied, and chose to commit suicide illegally with the help of an un-named doctor. In a situation such as Sue Rodriguez’s, I support the right to choose death.

When speaking of euthanasia, the metaphor of “the slippery slope” is often raised by the disabled community — the idea being that the mercy-killing of even one person may lead to the wholesale culling of the ranks of the disabled.

But I see the slippery slope going in two directions. In one direction, people could be killed because others think their pain is intolerable — just as disabled advocates claim. But there is another direction, too, whereby people can be forced to live in pain that truly is intolerable.

To be clear, one direction that Canada can never slip down is that of Robert Latimer, who arbitrarily decided to kill his young disabled daughter. This was clearly murder. But other situations are more nuanced.

As soon as I could speak after my accident, I had a lawyer develop a living will. This document explains to my parents and loved ones my wishes. My living will allows the prospect of euthanasia under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, the euthanasia provisions in my living will may not be binding or enforceable, which is why I agree that changes should be considered to our current law. Heaven forbid that the provisions in my living will ever need to be carried out, but if the situation does arise, my wishes may be trumped by the criminal code.

I want to be empowered to make the best decisions for myself; and if I am unable, I want the people who love me to do what they think is in my best interest. I do not want to be forced to live in a hell because the law does not take into account my “unique” circumstances or because someone imposed their values on the meaning of life on me. Given the choice of existence without living or death, I would rather choose the latter and take my chances on the other side.

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