Canadian disability rights activist implores Supreme Court not to strike down Canada’s laws prohibiting assisted suicide
Editor’s note. As National Right to Life News Today reported on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision in the case of “Carter v. Canada” this Friday. At issue is whether Canada’s highest court will strike down the nation’s laws prohibiting assisted suicide.
Mark Davis Pickup is a disability rights activist whose work we have published many times before. He also has spoken at the annual NRLC convention.
The following is a letter/email he sent in October 2014.
The Hon. Beverley McLachlin
Supreme Court of Canada
Dear Chief Justice McLachlin:
Canada’s Supreme Court is considering the case of Kay Carter and physician assisted suicide. As a Canadian who has been incurably ill and disabled for more than 30 years with degenerative multiple sclerosis (MS), I implore the Supreme Court not to strike down Canada’s laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The laws are there to protect vulnerable people when they are at their lowest point of life and overwhelmed by their circumstances. Let me illustrate:
I was diagnosed with MS in 1984. At about the 2-3 year point in my downhill slide with MS, my grief was so profound and unimaginable, my sorrow so deep, my heartache so sharp, that my judgment was clouded (although I did not know that at the time). If assisted suicide had been available in the mid-1980s, and if I had not been surrounded by people who held up my value even when I doubted it, I may have taken my life at a low point. I am so glad now that did not happen. I needed to safely grieve and not be helped with a death wish I might have expressed at my lowest point. Back then, I could not see past my darkness. I had no idea that the future would eventually grace my life with five beautiful grandchildren to love and new avenues for joy and new reasons to live despite my chronic, incurable, degenerate disease and serious disability.
You will hear much about unbearable pain and suffering. Such arguments are suitable to the 1970s not the 21st Century. Pain management has become so advanced it can eliminate all physical pain. Ottawa’s Dr. John Scott is a world renowned palliative care and pain management specialist. He wrote:
“The World Health Organization has demonstrated that access to pain-relieving drugs, along with a simple education program, can achieve relief in the vast majority of patients. Specialists in various parts of the world estimate that these basic approaches can control 85-98 percent of cases. The remaining cases require more careful attention and the use of multiple drugs and therapies to achieve complete relief.” [Emphasis mine.]Those words were written back in 1995. How much more has the wonderful science of pain relief progressed in these intervening 19 years?! If someone is suffering great pain in 2014, they do not need suicide, they need a new doctor! For a civilized society, the answer to suffering is never to kill the sufferer rather to protect and care for them within state-of-the-art palliation which does not, and must not, include suicide or euthanasia.
AUTONOMY VERSUS COMMUNITY
I want to conclude with this thought: Many people hold up personal autonomy and independence as the highest right. But if you value community they are not the highest right. The idea of independent personal autonomy is diametrically opposed to the concept of interdependent community. One person’s actions don’t affect just them. They never do.
If I choose assisted suicide it will affect my wife, my children and my grandchildren. It will affect my doctor because I will ask her to stop being a healer and become my killer. My suicide will affect my community and, in a small way, it will affect my nation by helping to entrench the notion there is such a thing as a life unworthy to be lived.
No Madam Chief Justice, no one has a right to assisted suicide and that includes the incurably ill and disabled, like me. It will not just affect me – it will help to put in peril vulnerable people who will come after me. No matter how sick I become I still have a responsibility to the Common Good of society and posterity. I have a right to expect the best palliative care available and those things that foster life with dignity, even at its end.
Mark Davis Pickup