Is it ‘right’ to die?

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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These are interesting times we live in as moral and ethical absolutes that many of us were raised with continue to slowly disappear.

One such issue that has jumped to the top of the Canadian discussion this week is the right to die, brought to the forefront of Canadian and global consciousness by the heartbreaking story of Bowen Island B.C. woman Gillian Bennett, who chose to end her life on Monday.

Bennett, 85, with her husband at her side but not assisting, took barbiturates that claimed her life, rather than continue to be overwhelmed by the dementia that has been slowly destroying her life. Her story, in her own words, was made available for the world to see at deadatnoon.com

Bennett’s decision seems more about not wanting to burden the family she loves and the country she lives in than about facing the ravages of dementia. Her love of family and friends is overwhelming in her goodbye message of one word short of 1,700.

Her decision was clearly made after deep thought, consultation with family, and a refusal to spend years existing as just a shell of the person she used to be.

There remains many, often due to religious conviction, who are deeply opposed to allowing people the right to die when they choose. Those people have every right to believe what they do, and to believe it strongly. However, if they extend that right to judgment, condemnation or criticism of what this woman, and others like her choose to do, they are overstepping their bounds.

There is significant irony in the fact that as a society we have for a very long time believed that putting suffering animals to sleep was the humane thing to do, but we have a societal obligation to extend the lives of suffering human beings for as long as medically possible. It is a remarkable dichotomy.

When human pain and/or suffering has reached the unbearable point for a human being, what right does society have to tell them they must continue existing? Why are cats and dogs and horses more worthy of mercy than a human being?

Considering the cost of end-of-life care in this discussion would be offensive if Bennett had not raised it herself. She noted the costs that existing as a shell of her former self would create for both her family and for the health care system. It costs an estimated $1 million a year to treat just one patient in Canada’s intensive care units. While the cost to maintain life should never be a factor used by a doctor or society to in future end of life decisions, it is another factor to illustrate how Bennett’s decision was not one made out of selfishness, as many opposed to the right to die would suggest. It was actually a deeply-rooted unselfish choice.

And it must be noted that although closely linked, there is a difference between the right-to-die and assisted suicide. While most who support the right to die also support the concept of assisted suicide, it does complicate the matter.

Many people who might choose to exercise the right to die, don’t have the capability of carrying, or the resources and knowledge to do it safely. With the help of a medical professional or loved one, that problem could be more easily addressed. At the same time, the concept of a death being assisted bring other societal and legal hurdles that need to be addressed to protect, first and foremost, the person choosing to die and those who would be assisting.

The right to die is an emotionally charged and divisive issue. People are free to argue either side. But who is anyone to decide for someone else that they should be forced to suffer rather than find eternal peace?

Prince Albert Daily Herald

 

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Canada

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  • John David Bourgeois
    August 24, 2014 - 22:03

    As the article states, anyone who intrudes in this personal decision is "overstepping their bounds". The days when religion can play a part in this decision are over.