A prominent national organization of Canadians with disabilities has come out strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A few years ago, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) actually sided with Sue Rodriguez’ appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada for the “right” to assisted suicide. They did so because of a commitment to the principle of self determination.

On October 24, 1993, less than a month after the Supreme Court turned down Rodriguez’ request, Robert Latimer killed his 12-year-old daughter Tracy. Partly in response to the shocking outpouring of public sympathy for Latimer, the CCD adopted a resolution in January, 1995 opposing involuntary euthanasia.

Recently, the CCD passed policy resolutions against both involuntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. In an interview with The Interim, spokesperson Hugh Scher said the group has concluded society isn’t capable of maintaining “safeguards” to protect vulnerable people whose lives are deemed not worth living, or too much trouble to maintain.

The CCD has become increasingly aware that it’s impossible to limit euthanasia to those who are “terminally ill,” for example. Since the terms “terminally ill” and “incurably ill” are often used interchangeably, this exception would put all people with permanent disabilities at risk. Many of Jack Kevorkian’s victims are not actually terminally ill. Some aren’t even incurably ill.

It’s also evident that euthanasia couldn’t be limited to those suffering physical pain, since many people today view emotional or psychological pain as being no different. In Holland, where euthanasia is officially tolerated, the courts have recently approved the “mercy killing” of people suffering from depression. But even if euthanasia could be limited to those experiencing physical pain, this exception would inevitably lead to abuse, since ignorance of modern pain control methods is widespread, even in the healthcare community.

Slippery slope

As for the notion that euthanasia could be restricted to those who are competent to ask for it, one needs only to look at public support for Robert Latimer to know such a “restriction” is really a slippery slope. Tracy Latimer had not expressed a desire to die. The “competence” loophole would lead inevitably to people making judgments about what other people would want if they could express themselves.

In response to the argument that people have a “right” to decide whether they want to live, many Canadians are realizing that individual rights are always limited by the requirements of the common good. Society has standards which must be upheld for the welfare of all. Moreover, many people who “choose” death are hardly free. Apart from how their judgment may be affected by depression, many people in such a situation are experiencing pressure from family or society to stop being a “burden” on others. (Alex Schadenberg is director of pro-life affairs for the Roman Catholic diocese of London.)