Long shot worth taking

By  Charles Lewis
  • January 21, 2016

After years writing about euthanasia as the religion reporter for the National Post, followed by two years of public talks to convince Canadians that government-sanctioned killing would be a disaster, I think I have finally figured out what bothers me the most about what is taking place in our country: the disturbing lack of imagination that has taken over the public psyche about how to deal with people who are suffering.

Consider the alternatives. Instead of talking about lethal injections we could be having a debate on increasing palliative care, creating a cadre of specialists that could bring palliative care into the home and continually looking for improvements in pain management so no one need ever suffer again.

These would have been fantastic goals: something that could have united people of all political stripes, all religions and philosophies. It is the idea that every life is valuable and therefore should be afforded dignity. It is the realization that shoving a needle in someone’s arm is the furthest thing from dignity.

Instead all we are talking about now is killing, which takes no imagination. It is a mechanical issue: What are the best drugs? At what age can someone be euthanized? And what are the right protocols for ending a life?

When I wrote about euthanasia and as time went on I dropped my objectivity and began to rail against the idea of legalized euthanasia in print. I did not expect to be loved for my stance but what surprised me was the vehemence with which those on the pro-euthanasia side attacked my ideas. Even discussions about use of the notwithstanding clause, which would allow the government to put the issue on ice for five years for further study, was seen as a form of reactionary treason.

You would think that even those for euthanasia would want to make sure that enough time was spent studying the issue to address the potential for abuse. Not so. Nor does anyone on the pro side care that something that will radically alter our culture has not yet been debated in Parliament.

Since January 2014, when I left the National Post because of a severe spinal condition, I have been speaking to groups about why legalized euthanasia is such a danger to this country. I often brought up my own bout with severe spinal pain just to prove that the idea of pain for me is visceral. I have no idea what I accomplished other than standing up for what is right.

A few weeks ago it appeared that the courts would slow down Quebec’s unilateral march towards a culture of death but that only lasted for one hopeful moment. Another court told Quebec it is okay to proceed — despite the fact that euthanasia remains illegal in this country. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reassured Quebec that despite the illegality of its decision to start killing patients, it would help the province proceed before a new federal law to legalize euthanasia can be sorted out.

In fairness, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper could have read the riot act to Quebec more than a year ago when it decided to legalize euthanasia on its own. He kept silent, I believe, because it would have cost him votes. In a country in which 80 per cent of its citizens support assisted suicide and euthanasia it would have been political suicide.

Though it would have been honourable and sent the message that the Criminal Code of Canada is not something that can be manipulated on a whim. It would have said in this country we do not solve suffering with murder. To be courageous is also to be imaginative. It is to look past the mob mentality and envision something better. On that score we have not been well served.

Despite these setbacks I am convinced this battle is far from over. There is time to change public opinion. There is time to push the Tories, with their 99 seats in Parliament, to ask serious questions about euthanasia so at the very least consumers of news will be able to follow a real debate. If the Tories find the courage to speak out against euthanasia we may see the pro-euthanasia side begin to wobble. This is a long shot but one worth aiming for.

But then again some of the world’s greatest movements were long shots. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

(Lewis is a writer in Toronto.)

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