It’s been four years since the sordid culture of death found yet another hero when Marcel Tremblay killed himself in Ottawa, after announcing that he wished to “die with dignity.” One of the many tragedies of this event was that dignity was the very last thing with which the 78-year-old man died.
He became a minor player in a circus. No glorious death on a metaphorical battlefield here, but a lonely and sad dribbling away with a plastic bag around his head. That the media were made aware of all of this at every stage only goes to prove just how exploitative and lacking in grace it all was.
There was something achingly macabre about the whole process. He went out for dinner with his friends and family before the event, where they made jokes and told tales. A few journalists wrote stories about him, talk-radio warriors gave their opinions, lawyers prepared briefs. Not dignity, but despair.
The basic contradiction, the obvious inconsistency, is that the man was able to enjoy good food and good humour right up until his death. He gave interviews, was cogent and clear, could walk and talk, consider alternatives and arguments. This in itself indicates a quality of life that he and his people denied existed.
Please don’t tell me about pain and suffering. My father died of cancer of the spine, after surviving a serious stroke and having lived for 30 years with psoriasis and arthritis. But then my dad was brave and not afraid of life’s challenges. Not afraid of death’s sting either and he would have told the right to die mob to take a hike.
My mother had severe dementia; the words she uttered for the two years before her death no longer made any sense and she could seldom feed herself and tended to wander. This intensely intelligent and startlingly kind woman was deprived of so much of what made her who she was. Yet, the essential, the core, was still there. She was still the same person and the same soul.
Yes, the soul. Created and given by God. To have sacrificed my mother as a martyr on the black altar of euthanasia would have been an obscenity beyond compare. That splendid and sagacious writer G.K. Chesterton once said that, “The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” Quite so.
The poor wretch in Ottawa was a victim of societal pressures and expectations, even if he wasn’t aware of it. I will not comment on his family, but I will say that if either of my parents had reached the point where they wanted life to end, I would have felt that I had been a personal failure.
I would ask why had I not found the right medical, spiritual and emotional support for them? Why had I not convinced them that life was good and that the sight of playing grandchildren, a new dawn, an old friend was worth the fight?
Virtually all pain can be controlled and experts in the field of dying and terminal illness agree that it is depression and the fear of a painful death that invariably cause the most distress.
Indeed, it is what seems to be the case in this latest engineered drama. Anxiety about an inevitable passing that could be unpleasant and, important this, out of one’s control. But that is what defines death. It is out of our control. Here, surely, is the essence of the argument.
The modern age screams against loss of authority. We must always be in control of the situation. Resist aging, resist decline, resist anything that doesn’t appeal to us for any reason at any time. Death is the only taboo left. How appropriate it is, then, that the great egalitarian blade comes for us all.
We can shout and moan and complain, but in the end, we can do nothing. We slide and slip into the beyond. If we are confident that this life is merely the land of shadows, that real life hasn’t begun yet, then death is of only passing fear.
But if we have no such confidence, we have to die pretending that we are still in charge. A shame. Because a genuinely dignified death has nothing to do with plastic bags and reporters. I saw this with my parents and I see it with increasing regularity now as I age and some of my older friends pass away.
If the culture misses them when they’re in the womb, they try again when they’re old, ill or weak. Time to euthanize the culture and save its victims.
Michael Coren can be booked for public speaking at www.michaelcoren.com