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The absurd logic of assisted suicide

by | Dec 22, 2015

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director –  Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne

In his National Post column, Andrew Coyne gets to the heart of the assisted suicide absurdity when commenting on the report of the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying.

Coyne, a National Post columnist and the former editor of the paper begins his article by asking:

When dispatching a patient by lethal injection, would a doctor be obliged to sterilize the needle?

Coyne continues:

That’s the thing about normalizing suicide. It requires us to set aside all prior assumptions except the most absurd ones. It rushes past all sorts of distinctions that might once have seemed important — between killing yourself and killing someone else, for example — yet clutches wildly at others, as if they were any more likely to withstand the momentum of its logic.

Here is what I imagine most people think assisted suicide — let us call it what it is, rather than the gentler euphemisms — is about. A patient is in the last stages of an incurable disease. Death is a certainty, but not so swift as to spare the patient unbearable torment — if not now, then in future. Suicide seems the only way out.

And yet the patient is physically incapable of killing himself — or if he is not now, fears he will be in the future. To insist, nevertheless, that he must perform the act himself will seem to many people an obtuse tyranny. By allowing others to kill him at his request we are only ensuring his choice is real. We are only sparing him unspeakable pain. We are only hastening the inevitable.

That, as I say, is how most people think of the issue. It is how it is typically presented in the press. An adult, of sound mind, in unendurable physical pain, having made his wishes abundantly and repeatedly clear, agrees to his own execution.

But that is not, alas, how those most involved in the issue think about it. It was not the basis of last February’s Supreme Court decision: The Court spoke only of a “grievous and irremediable” condition, not a terminal one, and made clear this could be psychological as well as physical.

Coyne then comments on the recent Provincial-Territorial Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying released its report.

The panel defines a “grievous and irremediable” condition as a serious illness or disability “that cannot be alleviated by any means acceptable to the patient,” making the standard essentially open-ended. It dispenses with waiting periods, or the requirement that a doctor be on hand to perform the deed. And, in its most striking finding, it suggests that assisted suicide should be open to children.

Coyne then comments on the philosophy of the assisted suicide lobby:

But that is not how advocates see suicide. They see it, rather, as a release from suffering; not as an evil to be prevented, but as a service to be provided (indeed, the panel recommends it be done at public expense). This presents the right to die, not as a limited one, such as the right to drive, but as an unlimited one, inhering in all persons — rather like the right to life. And, it has to be said, it is by far the more coherent of the two arguments.

For if assisted suicide is a right to be released from suffering, how can that be restricted to adults? Are we to condemn children to endless torment, where we would not an adult? Likewise for the mentally incompetent: Are we really so indifferent to their pain as to allow their disability to stand in the way of its alleviation? If they are unable to consent to their own death, should they not be assisted, intellectually, in the same way as those physically unable to kill themselves are to be assisted?

This is not some dire prophecy. It is, as the panel reminds us, the logic of assisted suicide. By making it lawful to euthanize children, we would only be following where Belgium and the Netherlands have led; by applying it to the mentally ill, we would be doing no more than Switzerland has already done.

If that is where we want to go, so be it. But let us at least be clear that that is what is really at stake.

Sadly, Canada seems willing to drink the Kool-Aid. It is our hope that people wake up before it’s too late.

Editor’s note. This appeared at and is reprinted with permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide