24 November, 2009

Matt Gurney (National Post) argues for the legalization of euthanasia

On the religion blog of the National Post, and as a op-ed piece in today's paper version, Matt Gurney, editor of the "Holy Post" blog makes an argument for the legalization of euthanasia. I post his argument below, as well as my response. I am very interested in your comments on the strengths and weaknesses of my argument. Thank you.

Matt Gurney: My life, my choice
Posted: November 25, 2009, 5:09 AM by Matt Gurney
Euthanasia, Matt Gurney, Holy Post

A recent 60 Minutes segment gave viewers a distressing peek into how the American medical industry delivers care to patients in their final days. End-of-life care has become an enormous financial expense, and that has left some doctors frustrated. "Collectively, as a culture," one said, "we really have to acknowledge that we're mortal ... and start looking at what a healthy, morally robust way to die looks like."

Some legislators in Canada have begun doing just that. That has upset my friend and National Post colleague Barbara Kay, who has argued passionately against taking any moves toward legalizing euthanasia -- including on these pages ( "Make life the only choice," Nov. 4). She is not alone in her beliefs, as this paper recently urged against adopting any right-to-die legislation in an editorial.

I do not agree. We must ask ourselves if letting euthanasia become a political hot potato (any more so than it already is) will do anything to help those enduring agonizing final days.

This is not an abstract worry -- each of us will one day die, and while we can all hope that our passing is painless, it is just as possible that we will instead spend our final moments hooked into machines doing their best to keep us alive well past what nature had intended. Every individual has the right to define the value they place on their own existence. A person who desires to fight for every second of life should have that right. Another who decides that they do not wish to fight the inevitable should likewise be accommodated. How a citizen chooses to face the final phase of their life is not the business of the state, of any religious faith, or of the body politic of the nation at large.

Some would argue that a life belongs only to God, and while their faith deserves respect, it is up to each individual to decide whether or not such concepts matter to them. Others would prefer to ignore the issue of an individual's right to choose entirely, and make the debate about something else: the controversial concept of doctors as killers, the threat of the elderly being coerced into choosing euthanasia by the relatives who would otherwise be responsible for their care and benefit financially from their estate, and the dreadful prospect of medical mix-ups resulting in the euthanizing of the unwilling.

These are serious issues, but euthanasia opponents must accept that no system enacted by man will ever be perfect, and just because euthanasia would be tricky to enact does not mean we shouldn't bother. The prospect of a doctor violating his Hippocratic oath can be removed from the equation by putting the administration of the fatal drugs into the hands of specialized technicians. Euthanasia can be limited to those who have explicitly requested it, in their wills or on an organ-donor-style card, leaving life as the default option for anyone who has not made their wishes abundantly clear. And the prospect of medical mix-ups does no more to discredit euthanasia than it does the entire health care system itself.

The process of establishing a workable euthanasia regime would be arduous and complex, and would involve many morally difficult questions. Granted. But these issues must seem very remote indeed to a person lingering in horrible pain while society hysterically debates the fine points of morality. I don't know what choice I'd make. But I demand the right to make it as a thinking individual, for my own reasons, and not as an unwitting pawn in yet another protracted battle in the culture war.

The church, the state, and the opinions of society as a whole are not welcome in my bedroom. I'm not much interested in having them with me in my death bed, either.

National Post

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My Response:

Matt: You began your post as follows:

"A recent 60 Minutes segment gave viewers a distressing peek into how the American medical industry delivers care to patients in their final days. End-of-life care has become an enormous financial expense, and that has left some doctors frustrated."

Did you notice that the first of your arguments against the status quo (where euthanasia is supposed to be prohibited) is economic in nature?

This is my greatest fear regarding euthanasia as legal option in our country: that the economics of the issue will eventually result in euthanasia become the modus operandi as "end of life medical care.

Whether it be done by the forces of the marketplace, or as part of a triage exercise on how to "best spend" limited tax dollars for the "greatest good" of the majority of society, if we legalize euthanasia now, we will later be in the position of accepting it as a societal obligation. As the "boomers" come to the end of their time, placing a huge demand for medical resources that will paid for by the generation that follows. A generation that is the first not to be trained in the basic social conventions of our civilization that is expressed in Christianity. Put another way, the progeny of the "sex, drugs and rock & roll" generation will decide whether or not "boomers" have a "right" or an "obligation" to euthanasia as their final option.

As my recently deceased friend and mentor, Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus often said: "that which is permitted, will soon become an obligation.

Let me offer evidence of the truth of this maxim: gay rights & abortion.

In the latter case, we began by permitting abortion under specific circumstances and only after a review panel approved, through "abortion on demand", where now we approach a point where health care facilities are being denied the right to "not" perform the procedure. Look to recent decisions of the European Community courts to see how his "theory" is now being demonstrated once again.

The gay rights movement has done the same thing. Having argued successfully that the traditional definition of marriage was nothing more than a malleable concept that could be tossed aside so as to accommodate a newer, more "enlightened" definition, the movement has already come to a point where it now argues that Churches should be made to accept an obligation to grant them their "rights" as a married couple. If you don't believe this, look to the debate in Washington DC over a law which would require the Catholic church to extend benefits etc.to couples that it does not recognize as "married". And where a Christian pastor who publicly preached a traditional Christian view on homosexual acts as sinful, was fined and sanctioned by Canada's Human Rights Tribunals.

No, it is NEVER a good idea to give to any individual the "right" to facilitate the death of another. At its core, this is the question we need to answer.

Before we continue experimenting with changing the societal definitions as we have hitherto come to understand them any further, let us think of how any new "re-interpretation" we make now will morph to that point where the economic forces of life intersects with the handing over of our right to life. You need not even look further than the coverage today of a case in the United States where a hospital will terminate the life of a 9 month old deformed child, (against the wishes of the parents!!!)instead of transferring him to another facility. Yikes!

Even if I were to be a non-believer, a simple review of these examples would chill my desire to open this Pandora's Box. As a believer, it chills my very soul to let loose such a horrific descent into post-modern secularism which would menace the end of life days for unnumbered frightened souls.

Maybe... perhaps... my prognostication may be wrong and this is not the fate that naturally follow. I believe however that that the evidence points to a dyspeptic future ahead of us if we redefine any more "rights" as an expression of our rights of self autonomy.

Fr. Tim Moyle

Mattawa, Ontario

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