Make life the only choice

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The Article

They don’t call it the scary-sounding “Hemlock Society” any more. The new name is “Compassion and Choices.” Under this cuddly rubric, bespoke death is now endorsed by respected society matrons and politicians as euthanasia’s version of Planned Parenthood. The once-reviled euthanasia obsessional — and criminal — Dr. Kevorkian, is raking in $50,000 a pop on the lecture circuit. The cultural wind is in euthanasia’s sails and the most unlikely people are heeding its siren call.

In his Monday op-ed, “Make life the first choice,” MP Steven Fletcher provides what looks like a persuasive explanation for why he will abstain on private member’s bill C-384, which seeks to make euthanasia legal in certain circumstances.

Because Mr. Fletcher is a C4 quadriplegic, paralyzed completely from the neck down as a result of a car crash in early manhood, his words will carry special moral weight on this thorny issue. And that’s unfortunate.

Having passed through the valley of death and excruciating pain, Mr. Fletcher understands like few others how death can present as a blessed release from apparent hopelessness. Indeed, in the early days of his ordeal, he says, he did wish to die, but “in my case, my own wish to be euthanized in the time after my accident … changed as I began to receive more support.”

The obvious irony Mr. Fletcher does not address in this crucial piece of testimony is that if euthanasia had been legal at the time of his accident, his wish for death would have been expeditiously respected. He would not be here to demonstrate that even the most profound despair can be converted to hopefulness and appreciation for a straitened, but still meaningful life. He would not be here to prove to other severely disabled people that even the most extreme physical constraints are no barrier to high achievement.

In short, Mr. Fletcher is living proof that a dedicated support circle and wholehearted commitment to healing within the medical community can lead to a life worth living, even for someone lacking control of his body or bodily functions.

“Bodily functions” is code for a bright line in EuthanasiaSpeak: Control equals “dignity”; no control equals no dignity. The complex caregiving and machinery that sustains Mr. Fletcher’s approximate workaday parity with his peers was designed with the understanding that no life is without value, which is why the attention he received was unconflictedly focused on recovery, however partial.

But through a social lens that sees a hierarchy of value in human life, such single-mindedness is impossible. Although they are too polite to say so out loud, many euthanasia militants, however admiring of Mr. Fletcher’s contribution to society, quietly assess the resources involved in meeting his physical needs and eye his unique mobility apparatus with calculating, even resentful speculation as to how many of their tax dollars are earmarked for someone who is, after all, not living with “dignity.”

Nobody with the most rudimentary knowledge of human nature, fleshed out in the alarmingly escalating number of euthanasia cases in jurisdictions where it is legal, can find reassurance in Mr. Fletcher’s idealistic assumption that two conflicting existential beliefs — all life has value, not all life has value — can co-exist in social harmony.

Sadly, his op-ed will do nothing to help those opposed to C-384, but it will be exploited to great advantage by proponents of legal euthanasia. They will make good use of Mr. Fletcher’s sympathy for those unrepresentative few in our population who are “forced to live in pain that truly is intolerable.”

Truly intolerable pain that cannot be managed and/or never abates is rare and becoming rarer with advances in the science of pain relief. In any case, in countries where euthanasia is legal, the option was first offered to those in “truly” intolerable pain; next it was offered to those in “intolerable” pain; now it is offered to those in “pain”  — and even, increasingly, given, not offered, to those assumed to be in pain.

If Mr. Fletcher does in fact believe that Canada should be “providing the level of support required to make living the first choice,” then he should vote against Bill C-384. In the psycho-social value system legal euthanasia entrains, high-maintenance sufferers who choose life are perceived as selfish, while high-maintenance individuals who choose death are perceived as public benefactors. Thus, paradoxically, those like Mr. Fletcher who are necessarily a financial burden to the state — a burden euthanasia opponents cheerfully embrace as the mark of a civilized society — can only be unequivocally encouraged to make life “the first choice” if it remains the only choice.

Mr. Fletcher is alive and productive today because at the time of his crisis those charged with his care were not empowered to consider other morally equivalent “options.” If he abstains on C-384, therefore, one might be forgiven for interpreting his surrender to the cultural zeitgeist to mean après moi, le déluge.

Barbara Kay
Latest posts by Barbara Kay (see all)

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