I am someone who struggles with anxiety. It has two levels. The first is the fear level which has to do with the fear of becoming seriously ill someday. Thoughts of invasive medical tests, chemotherapy, and intense surgeries that seem to be worse than the disease itself, have made me curl up on my couch more than once. Or if I think I see signs of one of those diseases, I can wind up catatonic, just trying not to hyperventilate. That’s how bad it gets for me.
Now, the usual answer I get to this is “Chris, why not just go and see a doctor. You seem fine. Get a check-up. Confirm that you’re physically healthy. You’ll feel better.” Others add the ominous aside, “It’s better to go now and catch something early then wait and have it be worse.” Of course, the second level of anxiety is the fear of going to doctors. The idea of going through a physical exam and having to wait for the results also can cause me to panic.
Wouldn’t it be nice then if there was a guaranteed way that, should I come down with a horrible disease, I could avoid the treatments and living with the horrible disease? Enter Physician Assisted Suicide. Or Medical Assistance in Dying. Or Euthanasia. Whatever they’ve decided to call it this year. Euthanasia is, “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.”
A common word which gets used by advocacy groups pushing for “the right to die” is compassion. On their website, Dying with Dignity Canada lists compassion as one of their values. They explain
“DWDC strives to support people through the physical, mental and emotional pains and struggles that often come with grievous and irremediable medical conditions. The end of life is a time when people, their families and caregivers need warmth, kindness and support; the very principles that drive DWDC’s programming. Compassion motivates staff, board and volunteers to alleviate suffering by working to overcome barriers to choosing a good death.
On the face of it, these all seem like really good things. I’m glad there are people out there who care about the sick and dying and who want to do what they can to ease people’s pain. Canada has been taking steps to make it easier for people to get a medically assisted death as well: Bill C-17. It used to be that death needed to be reasonably foreseeable before you’d be eligible. That is no longer the case. Meanwhile, being mentally sound was a safeguard. That has been excluded.
However, what I want to say is that ultimately, they are not doing people like myself any favors. There are three reasons for this. 1) PAS puts an incredible burden on us. 2) PAS actually makes me feel less valued as a person. 3) The legalization of PAS is actually leading to my personal autonomy being affected.
Problem 1: The burden.
Canadian philosopher, Paul Chamberlain explains that the legalization of PAS
“misses the devastating burden we would impose on the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society by giving them this choice… The elderly, the terminally ill and the disabled… people who happen to be the most vulnerable members of society. They are the ones most directly affected by the legalization of this practice.” 
There are various forms this burden can take. Chamberlain goes on to explain, we’re talking about people at the lowest stage of their life. They can’t contribute to society. They feel like they’re a burden on their families. Now people are coming along and saying they end all of it with the push of a syringe.  He writes “It places upon these incredibly vulnerable people the added burden of having to justify their own existence, if not to others, at least to themselves. And this… at a time when they feel useless, discouraged and a burden to others.” ’
For me there is an added dimension. It’s tied into my Christian convictions. I don’t believe suicide is a moral action. I believe God has a purpose for our lives, even for those of us who end up suffering from terminal illness. That doesn’t mean I like it. It just means it’s something I’ve had to accept. And before PAS was legalized, suicide was not really that appealing an option anyway. Overdosing, hanging yourself, or a bullet to the head are all fairly messy and can go wrong easily. By legalizing it and making it “humane,” the Candian government is creating a powerful temptation, even for those of us who believe it’s wrong. This in turn actually causes me a lot of mental stress because I am left wondering if I might break and take the option in a moment of weakness.
Giving me this “choice,” when I have crippling anxiety, has increased my anxiety, not taken away from it. And I wonder how it has affected other Christians who find themselves wrestling with the same questions. Whose side is the government on? Unfortunately, it’s not the side of the ones who are most vulnerable.
Problem 2: The lack of value.
Legalizing PAS for terminally ill people already sent a message. It said, “Your life really is meaningless. You have a right to be depressed. You are completely rational in wanting to kill yourself.” Meanwhile, when people were depressed over other external factors like loss of job, or the end of a marriage, they were being told, “You have so much still to live for.” “Don’t do anything rash.” “Life still can have purpose.” In that way, we as a society made a value judgment that said terminally ill people do not have a life worth living while able-bodied people do.
Of course, now with the restrictions being lowered, Canada is being a bit more consistent and saying, “Hey, maybe some people’s lives are just so mentally miserable that we should let them take the easy way out, too.” I have been thinking about going to a counsellor to help get over my anxiety or maybe seeking psychological help. This lowering of restrictions has led me to wonder if someday a doctor might say “Have you at least considered Medical Assistance in Dying?” How can they not at least put that forward if it’s both a medical procedure and a human right? But whether it’s mental illness or physical illness, the result is the same. Someone is coming to the conclusion that my life is not valuable anymore and they are offering me a way to end it. 
What I am hearing is: “Only mentally stable people have lives worth living.” I get that is not the message everyone might hear, but that is what I’m hearing and I matter just as much as the people who want PAS. This devaluing of our lives hurts. It’s insulting. And it causes me to doubt that I will get the real type of care the health profession is supposed to be offering.
Again, the question becomes, whose side is the government really on? It seems to be on the side of the people who they consider to be healthy enough to keep living.
Problem 3: The assault on my autonomy.
What really helps me sometimes when I am feeling anxiety about the possibility of getting sick is knowing some facts about palliative care. One of those facts is that palliative care is concerned with making sure patients can spend their last days comfortably with their pain treated and managed. Scott B. Rae and J. P. Moreland explain, “Those times in which medicine cannot effectively control pain are rare.” 
However, in British Columbia, my home province, a battle has been waging. If Palliative Care Wards wanted government funding, they had to be willing to give a Medically Assisted Death.  This has two effects. First, now the Province is interfering with the autonomy of Palliative Care Wards to choose what sort of care they want to give. Secondly, by extension, they are affecting patients who don’t want to take MAID. With the cutting of funding, treatments can’t be explored and buildings can’t stay open.
So now, only the people who want to end their lives get the care they want, leaving those who don’t want to live as long possible holding the bag. The result might be that committing suicide does seem like the best option. Again, the question is, whose side is the government really on? It seems to be the ones willing to clear out the sick and mentally unstable only.
When I look at who the government really seems interested in benefiting, I can’t help but feel like they are trying their best to exterminate the weak. I don’t know if it’s a conscious or unconscious decision. But that’s what all of their decisions scream at me.
They have made the country feel a little less safe to people who are ill and who already struggle with anxiety. They are placing a heavy burden on us. They are telling us we have no value. And they are taking away our autonomy even as they try to give it to other people. This is the sort of thing that needs to be stopped, not encouraged.
- Paul Chamberlain, Final Wishes: A Cautionary Tale on Death, Dignity and Physician Assisted Suicide (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 80.
2. Chamberlain, Final Wishes, 80.
3. Chamberlain, Final Wishes, 84.
4. Chamberlain, Final Wishes, 159-160.
5. J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 341.
6. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/standoff-between-b-c-and-hospice-refusing-to-offer-assisted-dying-1.4773755 (accessed May 20th, 2021).