“I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic] like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact it appears that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.”
Not exactly the sort of message to make a person feel valued, welcome, or wanted by their mate. The whole sordid story of what led to Myrna Lebov’s assisted suicide is chronicled in Wesley J. Smith’s book FORCED EXIT: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (Random House, 1997). It’s a critical addition to the personal library of anybody concerned about where North America is headed with euthanasia and assisted suicide. Smith presents insights about how Delury helped destroy his wife’s will to live “by making her feel worthless and a burden on him.”
I am chronically ill with degenerative multiple sclerosis, and have been relegated to the life in a wheelchair and various indignities of a neurological disease attacking internal functions. I am acutely aware of the distance most people keep from me – be it physical or emotional. As unfair as it is, I am aware of the slightest expressions on people’s faces of pity, shock or disgust – sometimes real and sometimes just perceived. I am aware that I do not fit in and that people must make special accommodations to include me. There is always a little nagging question in the back of my mind: When they turn away, do they roll their eyes or grit their teeth?
People with chronic illnesses or serious disabilities live in an intolerant world that celebrates youth, beauty and health more than love. Each time I hear of an assisted suicide I wonder how many rolled eyes or gritted teeth did the person see? How many exasperated sighs did they hear when they asked for help?
Assisted suicide is a cheap compassion. It requires so little. Lofty goals of inclusion, reasonable accommodations can be suspended. And if autonomy can be twisted to include assisted suicide for the disabled then abandonment can be dressed as a virtue of self-deliverance. What previous generations called evil this generation will call good.
Assisted suicide is cheap compassion because it is not really compassion at all. It does not require love or commitment to the common good of society. It celebrates self as the final authority. The eyeless “I” cries: “Every man for himself!” It calls to the individual who has sunk beneath the waves of circumstances, the miasma of depression or misery, and says you are your own master; you have no responsibility to the common good. Assisted suicide is aligned with human despair and says it is insurmountable. Euthanasia is murder and assisted suicide is a form of murder. It deforms the sacred image of both assister and assisted. It abandons the beauty of selfless love.
All true beauty stems from love – be it human or divine. Saint John tells us that God is love (1 John 4.8). As children of God (4.4, 5.2, cf. John 1.12) we are called to love one another. The Apostle tells us,
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. (1John 7-11)
It is a true community that is concerned about individual freedom – but individual form within the restraining influence the common good. The common good gives form in which individuals, and individual freedom, can flourish best. Individual freedom without love or responsibility to the common good leads to chaos. Love for others (and those yet to come) provides needed restraint to unfettered personal freedom.
That was the problem with the recent assisted suicide of Nova Scotian Elizabeth Macdonald (38). She had multiple sclerosis. Her husband said she was in excruciating pain since 1999—following her diagnosis. I have had MS for more than 23 years so I think I know a thing or two about pain associated with the disease. It’s easily controlled with proper administration of modern pain management techniques. If Elizabeth Macdonald suffered from excruciating physical pain for eight years, her physicians should be required to update their skills.
In the interests of maintaining transparency about Macdonald’s death, Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition rightful asked the RCMP to investigate whether Canadian law against assisted suicide had been violated (specifically Section 241 of the Criminal Code). Without the restraining influence of this law, other vulnerable people are at risk of seeking assisted suicide. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director, Alex Schadenberg, was met with a firestorm of criticism from autonomists.
The rule of law! Apparently the autonomists do not believe in it. After all, laws have a restraining influence on autonomy. Schadenberg merely asked the valid and proper question about whether a Canadian law had been violated. The autonomists wanted no such determination. Their god is unfettered personal autonomy. They roasted Alex Schadenberg for daring to ask a legitimate question.
I am glad there is an organization like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada to advocate life with dignity rather than death for people like me. I am glad there are people like Alex Schadenberg who dares to ask unfashionable questions. He has the courage to face detractors who would try to shout him down and would abandon the rule of law for the sake of any individual or cause.
Individual choices impact others. If I have assisted suicide, it will detrimentally impact my wife, children and grandchildren. It will affect my doctor because I will ask her to stop being a healer and start being an executioner. It will impact my community, and possibly even my nation, by helping to entrench the notion that there is such a thing as a life unworthy of life.
And that is why I do not have a right to ask for assisted suicide and you have a duty not to grant such a request.