Opinion » Maxed Out

Good Life; Good Death — Part I

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According to the Vancouver Province, she worked at an abortion clinic in Vancouver, supported women's rights and was involved in causes championed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. She was also a member of Death with Dignity, an Aussie organization advocating right-to-die issues.

But she was getting old, she could feel her independence slipping away and she'd made a decision years ago to not go gently into that good night. She decided to end her life as she'd lived it — on her own terms and while she still had the wherewithal to both decide and act.

Her family knew this and wasn't surprised when she informed them in late January the time had come.

The letter she left behind said, "... I am simply old, tired and becoming dependent after a wonderful life of independence.... I am writing this letter to advocate for a change in the law so that all will be able to make this choice."

The problem is, everybody can make that choice. Suicide is legal. Assisting it isn't.

Last June, the B.C. Supreme Court — the province's trial level court — ruled the federal law prohibiting assisting a suicide discriminates against those with disabilities. It held that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients to die.

But even if that ruling survives the appeal filed by the federal government, it doesn't come anywhere close to what Ruth Goodman was writing about. She wants people who are perfectly healthy, or perhaps imperfectly healthy, to have the right to go to their doctor — assuming their doctor would be willing to participate — and have them either administer or prescribe a lethal dosage of some drug.

That is unprecedented. No jurisdiction in the world that allows physician-assisted suicide permits it as a matter of choice. It is a remedy available only to those with terminal illnesses — and usually in the final stages — or suffering incurable, intolerable pain.

If one looks to the struggles currently playing out in the marijuana wars, physician assisted suicide is analogous to medicinal marijuana. In places where you can get a doctor to help you die you have to prove you're sound of mind and terminally unsound of body or suffering intolerable pain for which there is no relief. To get a pot script the burden of proof is a little more loosey-goosey but you still have to go through the motions.

But what Ms. Goodman is advocating is more akin to being able to walk into your neighbourhood 7-Eleven and buy a pack of Maui Wowee just to get high because, well, because it feels good. "Doc, I'm tired of livin'. Give me a hot shot on the mainline."