Illustration by Brennan Bova

Canada can do better

IT SEEMS LIKE every couple of years in Canada, the idea of legalizing assisted suicide rears its head. The renewed furor over this controversial issue is usually prompted by a particularly tragic case of a person wanting to end his or her life in response to extreme pain. While we can never hope to completely understand what such people are going through, we all sympathize with their pain. In cases like these, it can even seem cruel to deny their dying wish.

But in spite of all the emotions these cases can stir within us, there are still good reasons not to legalize assisted suicide. Chief among them is the problem of unscrupulous people abusing the system—killing people without obtaining proper consent, changing it from assisted suicide to homicide.

Few of us would stand for killing people on their deathbeds if they didn’t really want to be killed, but in jurisdictions with legal assisted suicide, we’ve seen case after case of abuse. Let’s face it: There are people who will take advantage of the death of a family member—assisted suicide simply gives them a deadly tool to do so.

Assisted suicide conveys a brutal message as to who our society really cares about. It tells the elderly, the weak, and those in pain that we are unwilling to foster their well being. Instead, we propose an easy alternative: Death. Easy for the rest of us, at least.

In the hubris of our youth, university students like ourselves might find it easy to support assisted suicide. But let’s not forget assisted suicide is the cynical alternative to putting effort into health and healing, whose sole advantage is ease and inexpensiveness for our financially strained health-care system.

A better alternative would be a serious investment in palliative care, which is in place to make the final days of the terminally ill as comfortable as possible. This would be more expensive and difficult than merely killing them—but isn’t spending worthwhile when human life is at stake? The terminally ill deserve loving, compassionate care from the rest of society, but even in Canada, too many do not have access to such treatment. We can and should expand programs that provide homecare, hospice care, and address the emotional needs of those at the end of their lives.

The course of dying is a difficult time, particularly when it’s an especially painful process. But it’s also a natural one: Many people on their deathbeds are comforted by the knowledge that when
they go, it’s because their time has come. Surrounded by a loving and concerned family, and provided with the best palliative care, perhaps few would decide to end their lives early.

In a society where we stood for assisted suicide, this time would be one of end-of-life politics and legal wrangling, where the person on their deathbed was made to feel as a burden. We can do better than that: Assisted suicide should remain illegal.

—Kelden Formosa