Up Close and Personal

This post was original published on 15 January 2011

Today I’m going to get right up close and personal, and say some things that I’ve wanted to say for several years. After I had come back from Switzerland, where my wife Elizabeth was helped to die, and her ashes had been buried amidst a wonderful celebration of her life, the news media and the so-called “pro-life” movement got wind of what she had done. At the behest of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (an arm of the Roman Catholic death culture), I was investigated by the RCMP Major Crimes Unsit, and then the most rabid of the “pro-life” commentators got to work to dissect what they thought it all meant. And of course, they saw devils everywhere.

One of these commentators was Wesley J. Smith, described by Wikepedia as a “Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute”. His report, still available on his blog “Second-hand Smoke”, as I discovered recently (the blog in the meantime having been moved to the conservative Catholic journal First Things), was published two days after we had buried Elizabeth’s ashes, and had remembered her big heart, her courage and her joy in life, dismisses Elizabeth as a “Suicide Tourist.” In truth, she was an exile, not a tourist, exiled to die in a foreign land, because of religious fanatics just like Smith, whose stock in trade is fear-mongering and lies.

We’ll come to the lies in a moment, but it is worthwhile mentioning that, had Elizabeth known, from the start, that, at the end, when life had become unbearable to her, she would have been able to receive assistance in dying, she might have lived much longer. She would not have had to worry about how it would end, whether she would have the courage to take her own life, furtively, all alone, whether it would work, whether she would involve anyone else in an act which she had had in mind from very early on in the course of her illness. She had known others with very severe primary progressive MS, so she knew, almost from the start, what was in store for her. Who knows how much the stress of knowing that she would eventually be completely paralysed and unable to speak, and knowing that she was not entirely free to choose, contributed to the severity of her MS? And then, of course, being forced to flee, as she saw it, into exile in order to die, she had to leave when she was still able to travel, and so she died before she would have done had she been free to die in her own home, in her own country.

The Roman Catholic death cult simply doesn’t understand. Here’s an example. Margaret Somerville is a bioethicist (at least she pretends to be) at McGill University in Montreal, and a stern opponent of assisted dying. A phone-in CBC radio programme shortly after Elizabeth died took as a topic whether the refusal to allow assisted dying forced people to die earlier than they would if assisted dying were legalised. The conversation wandered aimlessly for awhile until someone phoned in and said, “Aren’t you missing the point? Mrs. MacDonald died earlier than she would have, if she had been able to do here what she could do legally in Switzerland.” Margaret Somerville’s response was immediate and uncomprehending. “Well,” she said, “if she wanted to die, I don’t know why she would wait!” This is the problem when we allow people to make choices for others, especially religious fanatics like Somerville. They simply do not understand. Why should someone whose understanding of what people seeking assisted dying really want is limited to a few catch phrases and predigested dogmas, get to make decisions for such people?

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Fear of Chaos

This post was first published 4 December 2010 – once again, for Jerry Coyne’s convenience.

Deep within religious opposition to assistance in dying — which the religious almost always persist in calling, simply, killing — is the fear of chaos. This is, I believe, the chief reason for religious opposition to assisted dying, but it is never, or almost never, used as a public argument against assisted dying. However, it is always lurking in the background, as, in a sense, the ground upon which all the arguments that are used come to rest.

Chaos plays a crucial role in biblical understandings of the world. In Genesis God is said to bring order out of chaos. In the first chapter the spirit of God hovers over the deep chaos at the beginning, and then begins to assign everything a place. But later we are told that God regretted having created the earth, and was determined to make an end of all flesh, because the earth is filled with violence because of them (Gen 6.13)

The description of the great flood that follows shows the chaos returning again as the waters above and below the earth, instead of staying in their assigned places, break through into the ordered creation that God had made. It is often forgotten in retelling the story how horribly vicious it really is. Popular pictures of the flood and the ark show cute giraffes and other animals sticking their heads out, almost as though it were a holiday outing. Very few pictures show the carnage that would have resulted. Of course, Noah and the animals in their ark float above the chaos, a small fragile hope of the order that will return if God relents, and restores order upon the chaos once again.

(Note here that God uses chaos as punishment. This being the case, it should occasion no surprise that, in response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, by eating of the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, God punishes them with suffering and death. Both suffering and death, in the Bible, are close analogs of chaos itself. Jesus shows this, for example, by walking on water. Conquering the chaos of the deep is the same as surviving death, which — at any rate in the story — he goes on to do.)

One might well think that, as the cause of this chaos, by withholding his sustaining power from the order of creation, God is not entirely to be trusted. And if God was distressed by the violence into which his creation had degenerated, is it not strange to think that violence should be the answer? Is it not contradictory to show God raging with such fierce anger and destruction? Of course, the outcome is foreordained, just like in the movies, and, indeed, later, after all the brutal carnage and destruction, we know that the storied God will restore creation to order once again. He must, because we’re here, after all, aren’t we? We know the canons of storytelling too well, so we scarcely notice the horrendous cruelty and savagery of God’s condemnation, and the horrors and atrocities that ensued. We already know about God’s promises. There’s no point to the story otherwise. So, we already know that, after the cataclysm of the flood, God must make things right again. God does this by making a covenant with his creation that such disaster will never befall the earth again. In a saccharine moment God even places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the “… everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9.16)

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Choice in Dying has Ended

Thanks to all who followed choiceindying.com over the last couple of years… almost three, but I have decided to close up shop.

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