Source: Montreal Gazette
By: Asher Jacobson
A flora of terminology is being used to convince the public that assisted suicide is indeed a righteous act, with fancy and empathetic phrases, such as death with dignity and compassionate death. What we don’t seem to realize are the terrible ramifications that this law will have on our society as a whole — and the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
In my 20 years of comforting the ill, I have learned that when a patient says something as severe as “I want to die,” they don’t always mean it literally: It just rips them apart knowing that they have become a burden to their family and society.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of doctor-assisted suicide in specific cases. Now, Bill C-14, the legislative followup providing for assisted-suicide and setting out the conditions, is before the Senate.
Prior to assisted-death laws, including the one already in effect in Quebec, when individuals were diagnosed with a terminal illness, there was only one path: the fight for quality of life and managed care. Patients were surrounded with a supportive family, community and government services, because there was only one option: life.
Now, patients are indirectly asked if they wish to die, or even worse, asked if they wish to live. Those who choose life are often racked with guilt, sure that they are burdening their family.
There are those who argue that in some cases, where patients are in constant pain and unambiguously wish to die, there should be no questions asked. I implore these people to take a look at how our criminal justice system is formulated. There are laws in place that are designed to protect the innocent, yet it is these very same laws that allow criminals to go free. How is this possible? When implementing laws for an entire society, the main concern is protecting the innocent. Concern for protecting innocent people prevails over any danger to society posed by the few criminals who may escape the law. The same compelling reasoning should be applied to doctor-assisted suicide.
Indeed, there will be specific cases of patients really wishing to die. But allowing them to choose death has collateral consequences: the debasing of the sanctity of life for the majority. The many innocent lives that will be sadly terminated by this law would represent a grave miscarriage of justice in the way we treat the most vulnerable members of our society.
In countries that have had this law in place for many years, like the Netherlands, many are now warning others not to make the same mistake. What began as a law designed to help the terminally ill expanded its parameters to allow killing as an acceptable answer to chronic disease, disability, mental illness and existential despair. Consequently, euthanasia cases in the Netherlands soared from 1,900 people in 2006 to 5,000 people in 2013. Theo Boer, a Dutch academic who has been part of a committee monitoring euthanasia cases since 2005 noted that “cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given euthanasia consisted of being aged, lonely, or bereaved.”
In the realm of death, all of us — academics, judges, politicians and doctors alike — stand equally in its mystery. The decision of who shall live and who shall die should never be placed in the hands of any human being, but rather, left in the sanctity of its distinct equality.
Rabbi Asher Jacobson is the spiritual leader of the Chevra Kadisha synagogue in Montreal, associate professor in theology at Concordia University, and past president of the Rabbinical Council of Canada.