“Right to die” advocate ready to defy law and assist in Sue Rodriguez’s suicide

As I write this, the Sue Rodriguez case has not yet been heard by the B.C. Supreme Court.  By the time you read this, the case will not only have been heard but a judgment may already have been announced, and Sue might even be dead.

At the moment, her lawyers are feeding the media with plausible-sounding statements, hoping to make the public believe that Sue Rodriguez is merely asking that her rights be respected.  They argue that she has a right to die; that, because her disease will leave her physically unable to exercise this right, she has a further right to have someone assist her suicide.

Suicide is not a crime in Canada, but aiding and abetting a suicide is a crime.  Clearly, it is rather difficult to prosecute the person who succeeds in a suicide.  It would also be cruel to prosecute the person who fails in a suicide attempt.  A suicide is traditionally viewed as emotionally unbalanced behaviour and not the rational choice of a stable individual.  Obviously, society should have criminal sanctions against those who help distressed people to kill themselves.

Euthanasia supporters insist that assisting suicide is not euthanasia.  It is curious that such distinctions are made.  Could it be that there is still a revulsion against the idea that sick, or elderly, or disabled people can be killed, even when it is done in the name of compassion?

In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Timothy Quill made the following comments:

“In assisted suicide, the final act is solely the patient’s, and the risk of subtle coercion from doctors, family members, institutions, or other social forces is greatly reduced.  The balance of power between doctor and patient is more nearly equal in physician-assisted suicide than in euthanasia.  The physician is counselor and witness and makes the means available, but ultimately the patient must be the one to act or not act.  In voluntary euthanasia, the physician both provides the means and carries out the final act, with greatly amplified power over the patient and an increased risk of error, coercion or abuse.”

I suppose that the only good news in this extract is that people supporting the premature death of other people are at least willing to put in print the concern that legalized killing can lead to coercion, abuse and error.  Pro-life life people have, of course, been saying this for years now.

The most disturbing element, however, is the notion that every issue involves power.  Last weekend, I heard a woman on the radio explaining that male violence against women is all a matter of power.  All men are abusers, she said, only some of them choose not to exercise their power over women by assaulting them.  (At that point in the show, I exercised my power, and chose to turn off the radio.)

Sue Rodriguez may well have persuaded herself – or been persuaded – that her case is a matter of her controlling her death.  But the person in control here is a man called John Hofsess, founder of the radical Right to Die Society.  A former journalist, Hofsess knows well how to manipulate public opinion through the media.  In Sue Rodriguez, he has found the perfect symbol.  Who can remain unmoved at the plight of a young, attractive mother, suffering from the kind of terminal disease that will see her physically paralyzed while still mentally alert?

John Hofsess has written agreement with Sue Rodriguez that he will help her if the courts refuse to permit a doctor to do so.  The agreement says, “ I, John Hofsess, do agree to assist Sue Rodriguez in terminating her life at a time of her choosing, preferably by permission of Canadian law but failing that, by the moral authority of personal conscience.”

So, while the courts, the ethicists and the doctors argue the semantics of rights, suicide and euthanasia, the plain fact remains that Sue Rodriguez already has someone to do what she wants.  It reminds me very much of a well-known abortionist, who spent years plying his trade, being prosecuted, and getting away with it.  How frightening it will be if this same route brings more killing to Canada.