“Fear not,” Dingwall said, when I complained about the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the law against physician-assisted suicide.
“What do you mean ‘fear not’?” I replied. “The learned judges are turning compliant doctors into legally approved merchants of death.”
“They turned into that when the unlearned politicians legalized limited abortion and the Supreme Court removed the limits.”
“In both cases,” I conceded, “the Court ruled that the existing laws violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person. However, by doubling down on death, the judges have given me all the more reason to fear, especially as they held that the impugned laws could not be constitutionally justified in a free and democratic society.”
“Ah, but Canada is no longer free and democratic,” Dingwall said. “It’s a judicial dictatorship ruled in matters of life and death by unelected, unaccountable activists. Hence, we should be able to justify pro-life laws.”
“You seem to be saying that because it no longer applies to a democracy, the Constitution is itself unconstitutional, not the laws targeting assisted suicide and abortion.”
“As the Constitution assumes wrongly that we’re in a democracy, it strikes itself down.”
“You and I may see that, Dingwall,” I said, “but can judges and politicians see it?”
“Probably not,” he said. “Idiomatically, justice is blind. Literally, the blind seem to be leading the blind. But the judicial rulings fail on other counts.
“For one thing, the Constitution acknowledges Canada is founded on principles that recognize the supremacy of God. But the God the founders believed in forbids killing.”
“And not only of the weak and vulnerable whom the impugned laws sought to protect,” I said. “Everyone is vulnerable when doctors are killers.”
“Not to mention nurses,” Dingwall added. “Where medical treatment includes killing, doctors or nurses have intentionally ended the lives of numerous patients without their request or consent.”
I pointed out that evidence of such abuses failed to convince the judges to keep assisted suicide illegal. They seemed confident that safeguards against abuse could be built into the medical system.
“In a system that every year kills thousands of patients accidently,” Dingwall replied, “I can’t imagine safeguards that will curb abuse when it kills them on purpose. We’d be better off obeying the God the Constitution acknowledges is supreme.
“For another thing,” he went on, “palliative care physicians strongly oppose the Court’s apparent indifference to double effect. You know, the moral principle which recognizes that the intended helpful effect of treatment, relief of pain, may be inseparably linked to an unintended harmful effect, shortening of life. But to obtain the intended effect – by administering narcotics, for example – doctors and patients may morally tolerate the unintended one.”
“Despite the ambiguity of such treatment,” I said, recalling my introductory ethics class, “doctors may morally undertake it if there are no reasonable alternatives and the benefits they seek are proportional to the harm they foresee.”
“So,” Dingwall said, “while they may morally administer narcotics, which can relieve pain and might kill, they can’t morally employ chemicals that only kill. In other words, using narcotics, but not the other chemicals, can protect both doctors and patients from intentional evil and maintain respect for life generally.
“What’s more, the same principle applies to patients who refuse end-of-life treatment that may delay death but is disproportionately debilitating. Their refusal is intended to avoid debilitation, not shorten life.”
“The distinction apparently escaped the learned judges,” I said. “Their superficial skirting of double effect seemed like double talk.”
“Which is curious,” Dingwall said, “because in other contexts they readily see the moral and legal difference between intentional and unintentional killing.”
“Now, do you understand why I object to your telling me to fear not?” I said. “I escaped abortion, which was illegal when my parents conceived me. I’m not sure I can escape euthanasia, which doctor-assisted suicide facilitates.”
“The politicians have a constitutional option,” Dingwall said. “They can defy the judges and declare that life affirming laws shall operate notwithstanding the judicial manipulations.”
“Maybe so,” I replied, “but few politicians have the moral fortitude to exercise it. Otherwise, they would long since have insisted that judges interpret laws, not re-write them.
“Besides, the judicial magisterium isn’t the only major supporter of the culture of death. We also have to deal with the media-academic complex, and soon.”
“True,” Dingwall said. “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds complacency, as it did with slavery and is doing with abortion.”