Kill yourself if you must, but don’t make me help

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SUICIDE has been legal in Canada since 1972, so it's OK to kill yourself. There is no consequence, except to you. You're not arrested if you succeed or even if you bungle the job -- your life is in your own hands.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2011 (4139 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SUICIDE has been legal in Canada since 1972, so it’s OK to kill yourself. There is no consequence, except to you. You’re not arrested if you succeed or even if you bungle the job — your life is in your own hands.

But while there is no consequence for you, there are considerable consequences for the family and friends you leave behind and those aftershocks can be emotionally and circumstantially devastating. That is why suicide is hardly ever considered a noble or self-sacrificing act. It is more usually described as the ultimate expression of selfishness, cowardice, carelessness, in the true meaning of that word. G.K. Chesterton likened suicide to spitting in the face of God and suggested people who commit suicide should be buried at crossroads so the world could walk over their graves. Some religions consider it to be the unforgiveable sin, and if they are right, there may be other-worldly consequences even for the person who commits suicide.

But that’s neither here nor there. Suicide is more acceptable now than it was in Chesterton’s day. It is actually encouraged in some quarters — and there are lobby groups actively campaigning for the suicidal right to allow somebody else to kill them or, more bizarrely, for the right to help other people kill themselves. Somehow, they seem to think it is covered by the Constitution.

Two such cases are now before the courts in British Columbia. In the first, Gloria Taylor, a woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as it is more commonly known, asked a B.C. court for a speedy decision of her plea to be permitted a physician-assisted suicide, which is currently illegal, on the grounds that if it were not decided quickly, she might die before a doctor could kill her.

The federal government argued that the issue is too complicated for a case to be prepared in a matter of weeks, but the trial judge ruled differently. “I am satisfied time is urgent,” said Justice Lynn Smith in scheduling the case for Nov. 15, ignoring the fact assisted suicide is one of the most emotional and complicated ethical issues facing Canadians today and one that should not be disposed of for one woman’s convenience.

Ms Taylor, after all, has a legal right to kill herself without forcing the rest of us to be complicit in the act.

The second case involves the Farewell Foundation for the Right to Die, whose 117 members have petitioned the same B.C. court to rule on the constitutional right to assisted suicide. The group — one could perhaps call it the Canadian Kevorkian Society in honour of the American doctor who so eagerly sought suicides to assist that he ended up in jail — is first seeking recognition as a legal organization, which is complicated by the fact that it is acting in favour of an illegal activity. Many of its members are in good health and not immediately seeking suicide, but several have chosen the honourable route and killed themselves.

That is the paradox of assisted suicide. Killing oneself is the ultimate act of isolation, yet those who belong to groups such as the Farewell Foundation do not want to do it alone. They want the rest of Canadians, regardless of what moral scruples they may have about suicide, to join them as accomplices in their act by giving it a social sanction. That is truly cowardly and worthy of a burial at a crossroads.

…by Tom Oleson

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