Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Dance of Death

By Jean Echlin, Special to The Windsor (Canada) Star
September 22, 2009

The Carillon concerts from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill may soon ring out with Saint-Saens' symphonic poem Danse Macabre (Dance of Death). Bloc MP Francine Lalonde has introduced her third private member's bill (C-384) to allow legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Discussion and voting will take place this fall.

Scientific advances give us longer life and better quality of life as we age, providing our society a "hint of immortality." Meanwhile, the cults of death, Dying with Dignity and Compassion & Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) are pushing their agenda of death for either mental or physical discomfort/suffering, creating a confusing paradox. The opportunity to live longer is offset by what will become an imposed duty to die sooner.

Persons at highest risk will be the elderly, especially women 55 and older (misogyny still exists) and more elderly men due to the issues of ageism and elder abuse; those with mental or physical disabilities, especially those suffering depression with suicidal ideation; partners in scenarios of domestic violence; babies and children born with disabilities and birth anomalies; persons who are poor and disenfranchised; members of minority groups and individuals unable to speak for themselves.

Lalonde's bill states that "medical practitioners" will perform the death procedures. We have no right to ask our professional caregivers to provide us with death. Neither should they ever feel obliged or forced to comply with this request that goes against our essential humanity.

How would anyone know if the person coming into their hospital room with needle and syringe was intent on curing or killing?

This would destroy the trust relationship between patients, families, health care providers and institutions.

Programs of hospice/palliative care provide real hope for those with life-threatening or terminal disease. The cornerstone of excellence in these programs is the management of pain and other distressing symptoms (physical, psycho-spiritual and social). Quality end-of-life care is a priority. Unfortunately only 15 to 20 per cent of Canadians can access this care. Before any discussion of euthanasia or assisted suicide, all Canadians, regardless of age or disease, must have access to palliative care. To do otherwise simply provides a means of health care cost containment.

Recently in Oregon, Barbara Wagner, a 54 year old woman, was denied treatment for lung cancer because of cost, but was offered assisted suicide ($75) by the Oregon department of health. Barbara wanted to live. She has since died.

According to Canadian medical ethicist Margaret Somerville, "The proper goal of medicine and physicians is to kill pain. It is not their role to kill a patient with pain -- to become society's executioners -- which is what euthanasia entails, no matter how merciful our reasons. Physicians (and nurses added) must provide adequate pain relief. Leaving a person in pain is really 'torture by wilful omission." Read more.

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