Editor’s note. This article was published on the Fatal Flaws Film website on December 13.
By Kevin Dunn, Director of “Fatal Flaws”
Tuesday night, the CBC (Canada’s public broadcaster) aired a mini-documentary about an assisted suicide party. It ended with (audio of) the doctor giving patient Nancy Vickers a lethal injection under the provisions of Canada’s “Medical Aid in Dying law.” Nancy had Parkinson’s disease.
Two years ago this doctor could have been charged with homicide under Canada’s criminal code. Today, he is lauded by the media as a trailblazer.
Please understand I have incredible empathy for what Nancy was going through. Parkinson’s is a horrible, debilitating disease. I can understand why she would become so hopeless about her condition, so fearful of what was to come – that she would want to access Canada’s new law which allows for an assisted death under certain conditions. I get it. I truly do.
A very dear family friend recently passed away (naturally) from a Parkinson’s related disease. It was heartbreaking to see her deteriorate and struggle as she did. I loved her dearly.
But this post is not about Nancy’s (so-called) right to an assisted death. Nor is it about my friend who died of her disease naturally. It is not about demonizing doctors – or anyone for that matter.
It is, however, about the underlying message that these stories send to the rest of society.
The headline reads ‘My life these days is hell on Earth and I don’t want to be here anymore’. With all due respect and compassion for how she felt at the time, it is the use of this headline scares the hell out of me. And it should scare all of us. Why?
Each of us probably knows someone who has uttered similar words. Perhaps we have had thought them ourselves.
We can talk about safeguards and due criteria all we want, however the underlying motive is clear. Stories like this are about ‘normalizing’ the idea of having someone end our lives when we are facing significant suffering, fear, burden or depression. Or perhaps we become just ‘tired of life’.
Am I crazy for suggesting such things? Look at the Completed Life bill in the Netherlands.
This is about a radical culture shift, one that society seems so eager to embrace.
Dr. Watkins (the doctor who gave the lethal injection) says about the law, “This is very progressive for us as a country.”
Yet progressive by definition means ‘happening in stages.’ We have to ask ourselves what these next stages might be – especially at a time when the current law is being challenged in radical ways.
Take for example the pressure to remove “reasonably foreseeable (death)” from the language of the law. And the request to extend the law to “mature minors” and those with psychological conditions.
Are these indeed ‘progressive’ moves?
How commonplace will euthanasia clinics, like the one pictured here in The Netherlands, be in North America in the near future? Will we be able to stop abuse and coercion in a society where healthcare costs are spiraling out of control? Which of us will soon become ‘disposable’ when our quality of life is deemed unworthy of support?
These are not radical considerations. These are serious questions being asked by disability rights groups and advocacy groups in America and around the world. Not many realize there is a silent majority actively opposing such laws and who have been relatively successful in holding back a tsunami of legislation.
The CBC article quotes the doctor as saying to the patient, “You know, of course, you can change your mind at any time, It doesn’t affect any of the medical care you get.” An appropriate measure given the irreversible decision about to be made.
Still, I wonder how these laws are going to affect the medical care and research available to us in the future, when assisted death becomes the ‘viable’ option. Already we’ve seen cases where insurance companies will not pay for life sustaining medication while suggesting they will indeed pay for an assisted death.
That’s why we are making this film. To consider what is happening in countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, and USA – whose laws have been in place for some 15-20 years.
There is no doubt in my mind that doctors like the one in this story – in fact the entire pro-euthanasia lobby – truly believe they are doing ‘good’ and providing a ‘valuable’ service to those wishing to access assisted dying laws. I disagree with their logic but would never deny their perceived ‘good’ intentions.
No matter your convictions on this issue, I believe it’s time we ask ourselves the major philosophical question of our age: “Is it right to give doctors – or anyone – the right and law to end the life of another human? And just as important, what do these laws do to the collective conscience of society over time?”
See Fatal Flaws Film: Legalizing Assisted Death for an early review of the film.