We should worry about elder abuse but fears that doctor-assisted suicide will increase that risk are unfounded.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Gloria Taylor has the right to die with dignity with the help of a doctor. Taylor has late-stage ALS, which could lead to an agonizing death by suffocation.
Dr. Will Johnston does not approve. Johnston, a member of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said that the ruling will lead to elder abuse. But how likely is that when abuse of seniors is already widespread?
Elder abuse is so rampant that the government of Canada launched a campaign to reduce it. You may have seen their TV ad showing examples of elder abuse. Their website warns: "Abuse can be at the hands of a spouse, an adult child or other family member," among others.
Opponents of the right to die worry that the despicable people will hasten granny's demise for an inheritance, or kill off disabled people because they are inconvenient, or hasten the demise of patients to free up health care resources. These practices already occur too frequently. The court's ruling will not create more malevolent people; they already exist.
Nor will the ruling make it easier for these sinister characters to do their dirty work. The court carefully spells out the terms for people to arrange their own deaths. Taylor will only be allowed to have a doctor-assisted suicide if she meets a number of conditions set out by the judge, which include an assessment from a psychiatrist and confirmation from her physician that she has been fully informed about her prognosis and the ability of drugs and palliative care to alleviate her suffering.
In fact, the right to die could reduce total abuse, not increase it. It would certainly reduce Gloria Taylor's end-of-life suffering. She has given it a lot of thought in her 12-page affidavit submitted to the court.
Taylor is the type of strong-willed person who will benefit from the ruling.
"I have never been a person of small voice or weak opinion. I have no problems standing up for myself or, for that matter, for others," she proudly states in her affidavit.
Like most rational people, she doesn't want to die but she worries about the lack of control of her death. "As ALS generally affects the ability to control the muscles used to breathe, I use a respiratory ventilator when sleeping and already use it sometimes in the evening just to watch television. I fear that I will eventually suffocate and die struggling for air, like a fish out of water."
While it is not illegal to commit suicide, the court concluded that the assisted-suicide law discriminates against people with disabilities because they need assistance — they don't have the strength to do what other terminally ill people can legally do.
Denial of control over my life defies the Charter of Rights but common sense. After all, whose life is it? Not long ago, subjects were chattels of the king: their continued existence was at his discretion including the prolonged agony of death by torture or as cannon fodder in war. Parishioner's lives were the property of God who mercifully allowed life or capriciously snuffed it out.
If my life becomes unbearable because of a terminal illness, who should decide whether life is worth living if not me?
David Charbonneau is the owner of Trio Technical. He can be reached at email@example.com.