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Prematurely undiscovered


There’s irony in new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s selection of April 15th, normally considered to be “Tax Day” in the United States, to introduce a physician assisted suicide bill, but only for Canadians participating in Canada’s “single payer” healthcare system.

It’s as if he subtly wanted to remind folks of life’s two certainties – death and taxes. He has added a new wrinkle, though. Now a portion of a Canadian’s tax dollar is actually going to be expended ensuring a Canadian knows he can count on State support if he has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and desires to end his life.

Trudeau had little choice. Canada’s Supreme Court ordered physician assisted suicide be included in the healthcare law and legislation be brought before Parliament. Trudeau, citing the last painful days of his father’s life, endorsed the law.

The question Canadians as well as Americans should be asking is why? Is there really a need for legislation in such an intensely personal, and really private matter? Isn’t there a larger issue concerning whether government should be involved in the first place?

The old Hemlock Society, recast as “Compassion and Choices” (In Canada the group is known as “Dying with Dignity Canada”) has done an excellent job convincing the public the debate is about choice, and a law is needed to ensure a non-Constitutional right to die. It’s a classic straw dog argument that masks what the focus should be on: 1) Should the state be involved at all? 2) Should health care providers be involved, and possibly even compelled to participate despite conscientious objection? 3) Is society sending a mixed message about the sanctity and value of life?

Few in North America recognize suicide is the second leading cause of non-natural death annually. A recent Cable News Network (CNN) telecast listed suicides in the United States at approximately 42,000 a year, second only to drug overdose-induced deaths at 44,000. Suicide ran ahead of car accident deaths at 36,000 annually and gunshot deaths, at 32,000 annually.

Think of the millions spent annually promoting safe driving, seat belts and highway safety. Think of the millions spent on drug education and prevention programs, not to mention gun safety.

Think too about millions spent on teen suicide prevention programs such as suicide hotlines wherein teens are urged not to give up hope, not to take the path from which there is no return. Teen suicides are especially high in proportion to population among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. It is a mixed message to say the least.

Buried among that number are the approximately 250 people annually who in Oregon and Washington avail themselves of the law. The accuracy of the number is difficult to calculate largely because the law mandates the physician signing the death certificate must list the underlying disease as the cause of death, not the lethal dose of drugs consumed in completing the suicide.

A Department of Health study of those that actually completed their suicide (About twice as many folks start the paperwork) was revealing:

Almost all were white, well to-do and well educated.

There were few minorities.

Virtually none were fully disabled.

Pain management was not an issue, rather it was a matter of wanting to control their exit.

The picture seems pretty clear. Once again an unnecessary law is being proposed in Canada and will eventually be on the ballot in states which do not yet sanction physician- assisted suicide, to benefit the rich and powerful.

They come from the top one-tenth of one percent, the same group Senator Bernie Sanders has been railing against. They brag about not paying any taxes, and they know their money will buy them an extra ten years of life followed by an easy exit. They seem not to dread that “something after death/ The undiscovered Country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns/” Nor does it “puzzle the will/ And makes us fear those ills we have/ Than fly to others we know not of?”

(Editor’s note: full disclosure. Chris Carlson’s father committed suicide in 1961; in 2008 Chris chaired the losing campaign in Washington state against Initiative 1000 which allows physician assisted suicide.)

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