Quarterly Retorts

"Quarterly Retort" has been a regular feature in Free To Go, the cooperatively-produced newsletter of Canada's anglophone right-to-die groups, since issue 4:4 (Oct.-Dec. 2002).

(Issue 10:1, Jan.-Mar. 2008)

They Say:

Even if suicide has been de-criminalized by a government (as happened in Canada in 1972) it remains "a crime against the universe". Once we have been born we must struggle to remain alive, not giving up until we are completely overcome and have no choice.

We Reply:

The sense of being obliged to live is probably an instinct bred into us by evolution. Homo erectus adolescents who had this "belief" would have been more likely than non-believers to persevere through terrible adversity and pass their genes on to descendants.
But like many other instincts, this one may sacrifice individuals for the sake of the species. Our rational powers usually a better guide than instinct tell us that life is an elective, not a compulsory course.

(Issue 9:4, Oct.-Dec. 2007)

They Say:

An act is made worse by being intentional. This is why we punish first-degree murder more severely than second-degree murder, or manslaughter. And it is why doctors must never end life intentionally.

We Reply:

"Intentionalness" does not always make an act more evil. Instead, it reinforces the already-existing moral character of an act. A bad act is made worse, and a good act is made better. (If you pull some change from your pocket and give it to a beggar sitting on the sidewalk, you get more points than if a few coins fall out of a hole in your pocket and drop into the beggar's hand.)
When ending life is a good act as we believe it can be, in certain circumstances it is made better by being intentional. Thus, doctors who properly give death need not fear openness about their goals. People who deny or condemn intent in this situation are probably still hostage to the assumption that ending life is always a bad act.

(Issue 9:3, Jul.-Sep. 2007)

They Say:

As a society we will become hardened if we accept the practice of ending life when irremediable suffering develops. We will get comfortable with the role of executioner.

We Reply:

As a society we will become hardened if we permit no more than passive observation when irremediable suffering develops. We will get comfortable with the role of torturer.

(Issue 9:2, Apr.-Jun. 2007)

Philip Prins Says:

" ... people with disabilities ... are more susceptible to the power of suggestion ..."
(Page 3 in Fall 2006 issue of EPC's euthanasia newspaper)

We Reply:

This is an example of the labelling and lumping-together that disabled people so often object to. (And this particular claim is insulting besides.)
Having an accident that makes you need a wheelchair does not suddenly eliminate your individuality. Surveys have shown that a spectrum of opinion regarding the right to die exists within the disabled community. And opinions are distributed in much the same way as they are within the rest of the population e.g. 66% support among the disabled, and 70% support elsewhere, according to a 1994 Harris poll.

(Issue 9:1, Jan.-Mar. 2007)

They Say:

When doctors provide an incurably suffering patient with deep sedation, while obeying a request that tube feeding be withheld, they are not intending that the patient die. It just happens that death occurs.

We Reply:

Are we supposed to be comforted by the image of doctors stumbling subconsciously through their professional labours, leaving behind a trail of unintended effects? Surely compassionate purposefulness is a more reassuring picture.

(Issue 8:4, Oct.-Dec. 2006)

They Say:

Euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be made legal, because society must protect its vulnerable citizens.

We Reply:

Yes, citizens must indeed be protected, but from what? From certain events, or from certain experiences? Death is an unwelcome event when it means the end of pleasant experiences, but when it means the end of unpleasant experiences it can be very welcome. People who are at great risk for horrible experiences may not want to be protected from death, they may want to be protected by death.

(Issue 8:3, Jul.-Sep. 2006)

They Say:

In order to survive, a society needs to have its laws respected by its citizens.

We Add:

In order to avoid corrupting its citizens, a society needs to have laws which its citizens can honestly respect.

(Issue 8:2, Apr.-Jun. 2006)

They Say:

Euthanasia and assisted suicide should not encompass the disabled.

We Reply:

People with a non-progressive disability may well have no desire for a hastened death. However, people afflicted with a progressive disease often want to avoid living through its final stages. Such conditions give their victims a superficial resemblance to "the disabled" in the original or standard sense of that term, but we should not be misled. If those who die slowly of degenerative conditions are barred from aid in dying, the only people who qualify will be those who die quickly of a massive stroke or heart attack precisely the people who do not need the aid.

(Issue 8:1, Jan.-Mar. 2006)

They Say:

We should not act to avoid expected suffering, as Charles Fariala did. We should wait until the suffering has become unbearable, or at least until it has started.

We Reply:

If we followed this policy we would not let our dentist give us local anaesthesia until the drilling had begun and we had verified that it would cause us pain. But by such behaviour we would deny ourselves one of the major advantages of being a homo sapiens instead of a mouse like the one the poet Robert Burns unearthed with his plow ("The present only toucheth thee").

(Issue 7:4, Oct.-Dec. 2005)

George Herbert Said:

Living well is the best revenge.*

We Suggest:

Dying well is even better.**

*No. 524 in Outlandish Proverbs, published in 1640.
**Herbert might agree; Proverb 522 is "A faire death honours the whole life."

(Issue 7:3, Jul.-Sep. 2005)
They Say:

It is wrong to euthanize a baby "pre-emptively" (to save it from future suffering, or from an escalation of present suffering, when such a development is felt to be extremely probable).

We Reply:

   Where euthanasia and assisted suicide are forbidden, parents and doctors may think "better safe than sorry" and "it's now or never". Babies are so fragile that no dramatic actions are needed to make them die, and a death at this stage usually passes without notice.
   But where euthanasia and assisted suicide are permitted, parents and doctors feel no need to act pre-emptively; they can "wait and see". If unbearable and intractable suffering does indeed develop later on, it can be dealt with at that time by assisted suicide in the case of sufferers who are able to accomplish their own escape, or by euthanasia in other cases.

(Issue 7:2, Apr.-Jun. 2005)
They Say:

Doctors believe that their role is to preserve life, so they should never be asked to end life.

We Reply:

Many patients, and an increasing number of doctors, disagree. They believe that a doctor's role is to prevent or eliminate suffering. And they realize that sometimes the only way to eliminate suffering while still respecting the values of the patient (who may abhor the idea of dying slowly and "snowed", at great cost to the state) is to end the person's life expeditiously, while selfhood is still intact.

(Issue 7:1, Jan.-Mar. 2005)

They Assume:

A prohibition on aid in dying is a pro-life policy. It means that more life gets lived.

We Reply:

That is only the theory. In reality, the effect of the policy can be that less life gets lived. Thoughtful people may take care not to live beyond the point at which they can escape without putting friends and relatives at risk for imprisonment or bankruptcy.

(Issue 6:4, Oct.-Dec. 2004)

Politicians Say:

We cannot change the law concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide because there is no consensus among Canadians about the matter.

We Reply:

Was there consensus among Canadians about allowing women to vote, or about abolishing capital punishment, or about extending equal rights to same-sex couples?
History suggests that sometimes our government changes the law simply because it is the right thing to do.

(Issue 6:3, Jul.-Sep. 2004)

They Say:

Charles Fariala's suicide was a mistake because he was obviously suffering from clinical depression, which commonly affects people who have MS.

We Reply:

If Fariala had lived in a place where assisted suicide was legal, instead of in Canada, he would have felt free to discuss suicide with his doctor. The doctor would have referred him for a psychiatric examination, and if pathological depression had been discovered, treatment would have been prescribed. He might have ended up deciding to go quite a bit further down the road.

Issue 6:2 (Apr.-Jun. 2004)

The World Health
Organization Says:

No country should consider legislation allowing for physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia until it has assured for its citizens the availability of services for pain relief and palliative care. (Cancer Pain Relief and Palliative Care, 1990)

We Reply:

The WHO makes two assumptions:
(1) that there is an "either-or" relationship between palliative care and aid in dying, and
(2) that palliative care is everyone's first choice (people only settle for aid in dying if they can't get palliative care).
Neither of these assumptions is justified.
(1) Many people want both options they want palliative care during phases 1 through 6, then they want aid in dying so they can skip phases 7 and 8.
(2) Even among people who are content with only one of the two options, a hastened death may be the first choice; some people have no desire for an extended experience of their final decline, preferring instead to "quit while they're ahead".

Issue 6:1 (Jan.-Mar. 2004)

They Imply:

It is a sign of emotional immaturity to want a swift passage from life to death. Mature people are content with a non-hastened death over a period of several months or years if necessary as the current system provides.

We Reply:

Then presumably it is also a sign of emotional immaturity to want a swift passage from one side of the ocean to the other, and mature people will be content to travel by ship rather than by plane "Getting there is half the fun!"

Issue 5:4 (Oct.-Dec. 2003)

Dr. Howard Dean says:

I as a physician would not be comfortable administering lethal drugs. (Excerpt from an Oregon Public Radio interview on August 19)

We Reply:

Should your comfort be your primary consideration?

Issue 5:3 (Jul.-Sep. 2003)

They say:

If people think that a doctor would be willing to end their life, they will stop trusting that doctor.

We Reply:

If people think that a doctor gives priority to his or her own values and psychological comfort, rather than to the patient's values and comfort, they will stop trusting that doctor.

Issue 5:2 (Apr.-Jun. 2003)

They say:

Good palliative care is able to eliminate pain and distress in 95% of patients.

We Reply:

The people in the remaining 5% are therefore members of a minority. But other minorities, such as the disabled, are felt to be worthy of consideration and respect; why is this minority not worthy?

Issue 5:1 (Jan.-Mar. 2003)

They say:

If you really love your children you will accept a long slow dying, so that those who are close to you can feel the satisfaction of caring for you during the months or years of your final decline, even though you yourself are longing to have it all be over with. If you have a hastened death, your relatives may be left with guilt feelings.

We Reply:

If you really love your children you will try to imbue them with enough inner strength that they can deal with having you die at the time you prefer, whether or not that is the time they prefer. Otherwise, if their ideas continue developing after you are gone, they may come to feel deeply guilty about having made you sacrifice your comfort to theirs.

Issue 4:4 (Oct.-Dec. 2002)

They say:

As elderly people become increasingly numerous, governments will be inclined towards policies that reduce healthcare expenditures, especially expenditures on long-term care. There will be pressure to die.

We Reply:

As elderly people become increasingly numerous, both the private and the public sectors will see long-term "care" as a revenue opportunity. Operators of facilities, and manufacturers of products used therein, will make profits; governments will collect sales taxes on the products, and income taxes on the people who apply them to the consumers. There will be pressure to live.