Editorial: A fearful future

  • April 16, 2020

Among the many stories of illness and death wrought by COVID-19 comes the tragic case of Jean Truchon.

That name may sound familiar because Truchon is a major reason Parliament is about to amend assisted-suicide legislation in ways that will make it easier to receive a doctor-induced death. 

The 51-year-old Montreal man was instrumental in a successful constitutional challenge in a Quebec court that struck down a 2016 law that restricted assisted suicide to people whose death was “reasonably foreseeable.” Faced with the ruling, the federal Liberal government declined to launch a Supreme Court appeal, offering instead a mere shrug and a new law amended along lines insisted by Truchon and preferred by the Quebec judges.

As a result, all of Canada will be bound soon by a distressing law that makes it substantially easier to obtain a premature death by lethal injection. Bill C-7 removes the requirement that death be reasonably foreseeable, cuts the number of signatures required on consent forms from one to two, eliminates a 10-day waiting period between giving consent and receiving death, and allows even healthy people to sign up for euthanasia in anticipation of a possible time when they may become incapable of providing informed consent.

Truchon, who lived in pain with spastic cerebral palsy, allowed himself to be killed on April 7. He requested euthanasia because, according to a statement, isolation measures to contain COVID-19 at his long-term care facility left him cut off from relatives and friends. 

“The coronavirus has literally stolen my time with those I love,” he said in a Canadian Press article. “Seeing what is coming frightens me the most.”

So alone, frightened and apparently in despair, Truchon, whose long-term plan was to be euthanized in July, was legally put to death under medical supervision. 

Euthanasia advocates will call this death noble, but how can it be noble when it was ultimately triggered by fear and loneliness? And as the onset of more permissive laws foreshadow a national outbreak of euthanasia, how many more people broken by fear, sadness or abandonment will chose death over life?

COVID-19 has affirmed with tragic authority that people are frail and vulnerable. It has demonstrated the pain of isolation, the anguish of loneliness and underlined our obligation to be there for one another. In the end, the moment of Jean Truchon’s death was not dictated by his painful disability or by the coronavirus itself. He asserted a legal right to be killed soon after he became detached from society. 

Some will argue his situation demonstrates why regulated euthanasia is merciful. But it is difficult to find mercy or dignity in a death ultimately triggered by fear and loneliness. 

Nor can comfort be found in a death that offers a frightening glimpse into a post-pandemic future of pervasive euthanasia sanctioned by a society that fails too often to fully support those most in need.

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