By Mark Davis Pickup
The Canadian city of Edmonton spent $3 million on a fence across a high-level bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. It is intended to prevent suicidal people from jumping off the bridge. Happily, the fence has been successful in that regard. Although progressives don't see a philosophical or ideological contraction to the fence, let me play devil's advocate (after all, most of Canada's politicians, mainstream liberal media, and government élites are doing his bidding). If suicide is an exercise of personal autonomy, doesn't the fence obstruct people's right of autonomy?
On February 6th, 2015, Canada's Supreme Court, under the ideological leadership of Chief Justice Beverely McLaughlin, unanimously struck down Canada's law against assisted suicide. They focused on Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (similar to a constitution) that says: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with fundamental principles of justice." (Happily, Justice McLaughlin will be retiring soon. Unhappily, we're still stuck with the other eight.)
The Justices suppressed the first and highest human “right to life” in order to elevate the lesser right of “security of the person.” In other words, the high court's low decision raised personal autonomy to preposterous prominence. Why do I say the right to life is the first and highest right? All other rights (including the exercise of liberty and security of the person) depend upon the right to life in order to exist. Beverley McLaughlin and the other eight starched collars on the high court view personal autonomy of higher concern than sanctity of human life. And the Supremes said as much. From their ruling:
We do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that an individual cannot "waive" their right to life. ... The sanctity of human life is one of our most fundamental societal values. Section 7 is rooted in a profound respect for the value of human life. But S7 also encompasses life, liberty and security during the passage to death.
After muting the right to life and the sanctity of human life, the nine illustrious judges continued: "Underlying both of these rights [liberty and security of the person] is a concern for the protection of individual autonomy and dignity." Citing a British Columbia Human Rights Commission ruling they agreed that liberty protects "the right to make fundamental personal choices free from state interference."
Although the Supreme Court Justices were dealing with assisting the suicides of disabled and sick Canadians, surely the principle of making autonomous choices on matters of life and death apply to all Canadians, under this new legal model. To be consistent in the Brave New Canada under the Supreme Court's vision, shouldn't suicide prevention fences like the one in Edmonton be taken down, suicide prevention telephone hotlines across the country unplugged, and suicide prevention programs stopped? After all, they impinge upon Canadians’ freedom to decide the time and place of their own deaths and make autonomous choices. But I don't think consistency is what the Supreme Courts had in mind with their deplorable ruling.
The Canadian Supreme Court ruling and subsequent federal assisted suicide law are intended exclusively for the disabled and sick. Medical killing of the disabled has been sold with the deceptive euphemism medical assistance in dying. It sounds so civilized and compassionate. Medical assistance in dying is actually called palliative care. What was legalized was medical killing.
The Supreme Court's assisted suicide decision and subsequent so-called progressive legalizing of assisted suicide dealt a serious blow to hard-won disability equality. People like me have sought for more than thirty-five years to advance the cause of people with disabilities being treated as equals with the rest of the population. We fought to be equal in law, social policy promoting inclusion, health care, and every facet of society. The new law treats Canadians with disabilities as lesser citizens undeserving the same protections as the rest of the population. It seems that the progressives are, in fact, regressive. What Canada has now is suicide prevention for healthy and able-bodied Canadians while Canadians with disabilities and incurable disease get assisted suicide. It gives new symbolism to the Justices' blood-red robes!
Canada's new law will be eventually challenged by some depressed or mentally ill person who wants to be euthanized. They will say they don't want to risk trying to commit suicide by their own hand for fear of bungling the attempt and ending up in a worse position. They may say their emotional and psychological suffering is as great or greater than my physical suffering. And who are you or me, or judges in ivory towers, to say it is not?! A legal Rubicon has been crossed, a Pandora's box has been opened, the genie will not go back into its bottle. Tear down the fences that hamper “choice”!
Welcome to the darkening and indifferent world of unfettered personal autonomy. It is the natural and absurd conclusion to a regressive world of progressives, in all its callous splendor. God help us.
Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 33 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. He writes a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2017/06/the-regressive-world-of-progressives.html.