Physician aid-in-dying

exit onlyI’m saddened by the recent Supreme Court ruling wherein the judges unanimously voted to remove restrictions on physician aid-in-dying. Many of my peers and friends are in support of this ruling and would perhaps be surprised I feel differently. I could write a big essay about it but I know how it would go:

To reason this through properly I would first have to lay out the argument of how our collectively-enabled, leaderless, capitalist, neoliberal regime is coaxing us to draw up the blueprints of our own demise, at our own hands, before things get too messy or expensive. I would have to walk the reader through how narcissistic fear (renamed “dignity”) is at the root of our resistance to seeing our lives through to the bitter end. I’d have to account for how I think it’s a terrible indictment on our society that people who are vulnerable and dependent deem themselves too much of a burden for loved ones, while the loved ones tearfully agree and praise them for their courage.

And then the rebuttals would appear, right on cue. I’d have to sort out arguments about relieving pain and suffering, and an individual’s right to decide one’s own fate. I’d probably do an okay job taking apart the suffering angle but the ‘right to decide’ bit would be much harder, and frankly would probably be the showstopper.

My own initial argument would be my undoing. I would review my notes, see how I described the inevitability of this decision, acknowledge how of course this is what our society claims to want for itself because we’re all so scared of imperfection and disability, realize I can’t fend it off.  I would grudgingly, achingly concede I don’t have any foothold to insist that someone must keep living against their will, regardless of how that will was determined or formed.


The ruling itself seems like an inevitability and many would argue it’s a good thing to remove barriers to civil liberties.  Sure, yes, I agree. But in this case, I’m on the conservative side of the debate and that makes things a little awkward.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m not saddened by the ruling itself. Maybe I’m saddened by the applause and what it says about us.



  1. How old are you Jennifer? I suggest unless you are over 70 that you cannot understand the worry it is to imagine being old and helpless and in pain with no way out and how comforting it is when still old and healthy to know that if you do become that way that your friends and family can all gather around you to say goodbye and hold your hand while you drift off into a forever sleep.

  2. I’ll from Peter Singer’s book, Rethinking Life and Death, in which he notices that pro-life is a misnomer because if the organisation spent as many resources funding global poverty and international aid, they could save the lives of numerous fully-grown and sentient people who do want to live rather than fighting to save the lives of unwanted and non-sentient embryos. Projecting that argument onto saving health care resources by allowing unwell people with disabilities to willingly commit assisted suicide, couldn’t more lives, the lives of those who actually want to live, be saved?

  3. Linda and Christine: there are many issues surrounding the idea of assisted suicide about which the average person is unaware. One such issue is that the general population devalues the life of disabled (whether young or old). When such individuals are not competent to make life and death decisions for themselves, it is left to family members or caregivers. There is considerable room for error here, with those family members/caregivers often making negative assumptions about quality of life and what the individual “might” want, or to fall to economic arguments to withdraw care and end life. Though I cannot imagine living the life that my severely intellectually and physically disabled daughter lives, I cannot imagine, either, assuming that she does not enjoy her life as is, and that she herself would not choose to continue living it. It is both folly and naive to imagine that the scenario of the beleaguered parent or caregiver making a decision to “end the suffering” of a disabled individual does not exist, Robert Latimer being a perfect (and Canadian) case in point. I for one do not trust the “safeguards” that supposedly protect our most vulnerable population from those who either hold a utilitarian view of life, or who become weary of supporting said population. As a just and good society, we would do better to create and fund good quality palliative care for those transitioning, and, before that, provide superior supports for families and caregivers helping those who cannot always help themselves. I urge you both to re-read Jennifer’s piece, however. It is full of subtlety, something glaringly lacking in the so-called PAD discussions. Whether you are pro or con, her piece should be thought provoking in the truest sense of the term. I personally am particularly struck by this line: “…I think it’s a terrible indictment on our society that people who are vulnerable and dependent deem themselves too much of a burden for loved ones, while the loved ones tearfully agree and praise them for their courage.”

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