Proponents of assisted suicide offer the elixir of “consent” to ward off criticisms

By Dave Andrusko

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Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne is a columnist for the National Post and in previous stints has been national editor for Maclean’s and a columnist with the most influential newspaper in Canada, Globe and Mail. As a critic of euthanasia and assisted suicide, they don’t come much better.

As the last post of the week, I’d like to take a few minutes to think about “Finer points of consent missing in assisted suicide bill,” which appeared Wednesday. As he always does, Coyne builds his case brick by brick, using experience, common sense, and a deep appreciation for the frailty of people as mortar.

Here is one of his principle arguments, captured in two paragraphs. The setting is the total victory of patient “autonomy” supposedly “safeguarded” by “consent,” either real or (as as is often the case) imaginary:

You can see why. If the absolute supremacy of personal autonomy was the sword that cleaved all arguments for the sanctity of life in two, consent was the shield against all concerns that personal autonomy could as much be violated in the course of ending someone’s life as by the prohibition on it.

To put such emphasis on consent as the justification for taking life, however, is to concede that it cannot be justified without consent. When the subject is as priceless as a human life, it is not enough that consent usually be obtained. It must be in every case. It will not suffice if the safeguards are adequate. They must be perfect.

The brunt of his argument is that safeguards are more to beat down the gates protecting vulnerable patients than to really make consent ironclad. What about C-14, the new, proposed Canadian law? “[T]he bill leaves open all manner of possibilities for abuse or error.” And that doesn’t even address “widespread misdiagnosis,” such as

how certain can they be that a given condition is “irremediable,” that an illness is “incurable,” or that death has become “reasonably foreseeable,” even allowing for the enormous subjectivity and wiggle room contained in these terms?

Coyne states a simple unassailable truth about the argument as it has unwound over the last year since the Supreme Court of Canada gutted the law against assisted suicide:

Yet, far from demanding that the bill be tightened, the majority of the critics seem concerned only that it should be loosened further: to permit the euthanization of children, for example, or to allow those anticipating being mentally incapacitated in future to make provision for their death in advance — not because they are necessarily suffering now, but in dread of the suffering they believe they will find intolerable in future. Will they, in the event? Might they have changed their mind, if not? Who can say? But their “consent” would already have been obtained.

Returning to his thesis–what I would call “the illusions of consent,” or “manufactured consent”–Coyne concludes

Consent is a powerful concept. But it needs to be demonstrated, not assumed. That so many seem willing to take it as given is among the more disturbing aspects of this debate.