Canada’s euthanasia laws are a chilling example of ‘throwaway culture’

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Canada is engaged in an important, and sometimes frightening, debate on the right to life in contrast to the debate taking place here in the United States. They debate the widespread practice of euthanasia and whether liberalized euthanasia laws are consistent with the values ​​their courts have emphasized when they have rejected laws prohibiting the procedure.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Carter v. Canada that the bans on assisted suicide and euthanasia violate the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens. The court held that “an individual’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter essential to their dignity and autonomy. The ban deprives people in this situation of the right to make decisions concerning their physical integrity and their medical care and thus infringes their freedom”. . And by leaving them to endure intolerable suffering, it undermines their security of the person.

In a downright Orwellian sentence, the Canadian court ruled that “the prohibition deprives certain individuals of life, because it has the effect of compelling certain individuals to commit suicide prematurely, lest they should be unable to do so when they reached the point where the suffering was intolerable.”

The resulting law, passed in 2016, did not deliver the lofty and lofty results that judges in Canadian courts might have hoped for, especially after an amendment further liberalized the law. Indeed, any handicapped person can request that one puts an end to his days.

Disability activists have rightly understood that this has the effect of saying that their lives are not as valuable as those of those who are not disabled. “Our government’s efforts, especially over the past few years, have largely pushed towards providing options for dying rather than actually working to make things better, easier and more functional for people with disabilities,” said said Jeff Preston, a physically disabled Canadian, said in 2020 when debating the law.

Human rights activists of the elderly and poor, as well as people with disabilities, have argued that the Canadian system violates the rights of all three groups. They wrote that “reducing the number of required witnesses and accepting paid staff as independent witnesses” posed a real threat to “those without adequate support networks of friends and family, who are more who are elderly, who live in poverty or who may be further marginalized because of their racial, Indigenous, gender identity or other status. These people “will be more likely to be prompted to access MAID [Medical Assistance in Dying].”

Tim Stainton, director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, told The Associated Press that Canadian law is “probably the greatest existential threat to people with disabilities since the Nazi program in Germany in the 1930s”.

Some countries like the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal for 20 years, have monthly reviews of difficult cases, although it is hard to imagine a case that is not “difficult”, and one wonders why reviews are undertaken after the fact. Yet Dutch authorities have investigated some abuses within their system and the Canadian system only has an annual review that tracks trends.

And the trends are alarming: more than 10,000 Canadians died by euthanasia in 2021, a 32% increase from the previous year. The 2020 figures, in turn, represented a 36% increase over 2019.

Is this what the Supreme Court of Canada meant by “fundamental justice” when it rendered its opinion in Carter c. Canada? The judges wrote: “The prohibition of medical assistance in dying infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a way that is inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice. Is this an outcome that even resembles justice?

The link between human dignity and personal autonomy established by the proponents of assisted suicide is too easy. Personal autonomy and bodily integrity, which are not the same thing, are constitutive, not exhaustive, of human dignity. This moral fact relates to the debate over abortion as well as euthanasia, and does so in complicated ways, as Boston College professor Cathleen Kaveny recently pointed out.

Disability advocates understand this very well: the difference between their autonomy and their dignity is often the extent of their suffering. It is always the measure of society’s compassion or indifference. This is one of the reasons why the Holy Father’s warning against a “throwaway culture” is so powerful: it strikes at an obvious, albeit uncomfortable, moral truth.

Moreover, our experience of life as a gift is real and culturally beneficial. The reduction of the value of life to the exercise of autonomy leaves no room for notions of gift or grace. Moreover, Catholic ideas about the flourishing of individuals are always, always, always tied to ideas about the common good. These are the two reasons why Catholics feel compelled to defend human life so deeply.

No recourse to religious ideas is necessary to worry about this frightening development in Canada. The potential for coercion – familial, social or cultural – is frightening on its face and has been too little discussed in Canada. It seems impossible to state that some people should be allowed to end their lives without suggesting that others like them should be encouraged to do so as well if they appear to be a drain on the resources of a family or society. . This is the territory of the Brave New World.

Assisted suicide is legal in 10 US states, which is 10 too many. Death is coming for all of us. A society that embraces it, not as a reality but as a choice, is a society on the way to becoming morally coarse.

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