Bastable a victim of cultural myths

“I refuse to live by healthy people’s rules. I want choice.”

Gloria Lawrenson

Several months ago, Austin Bastable, the latest victim of American’s Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian, wrote to Amnesty International and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming to be a victim of “human rights abuses.” In reality, Bastable was more a victim of “cultural myths” than anything else.

Like many of his predecessors in the fight to legalize assisted suicide, Mr. Bastable bought into the twin, modern myths that there’s no dignity on disability and that when living gets too difficult, death is the solution. He told the media, “I refuse to live by healthy people’s rules. I want choice.”

But even more dangerous was his absolute acceptance of the most popular of all 20th Century myths: That an ordinary life consisting of marriage, children and hard work is not the measure of success and that glory and recognition come only to those who sell a million C.D.’s, score a thousand goals or change an important law. Bastable hoped that in death—or at least in the planning of it—he could secure the glory and recognition that had evaded him in life.

Austin was happiest in front of the camera—whether as the star of a CBC documentary or a video destined for the Prime Minister. AS was evident from his dialogue on the Internet, he also enjoyed media interviews and dining with politicians and dignitaries. But this meant planning his death very carefully: Not during the Quebec Referendum or Christmas. Not during the Parliamentary Break, the GST squabble or the passage of Bill C-33.

Of course, we can’t just blame Bastable, poor fellow. His fear of dying a “gruesome” death made him easy prey for John Hofsess, Director of Canada’s Right to Die Society. Although Hofsess, who once forged Sue Rodriguez’ signature on a letter, often bragged that Bastable didn’t “need anyone to speak for him,” the fact is that Bastable often imitated Hofsess. At a September news conference, Hofsess declared, “Life shouldn’t be a sentence” while Bastable repeatedly contended that he felt as if he had been “sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole…”

During the nine days that they spent together in April, Bastable publicly thanked Hofsess for providing him with “…hope, confidence, and a plan for the future.” What was he referring to? Hope that he would soon die of carbon monoxide poisoning? Confidence that he could go through with it no matter how wrong it felt? A plan that was so firm that it couldn’t be backed out of without losing face? We’ll probably never know. But we do know that the $2 per minute charge to hear Bastable’s 1-900 “Farewell Message to Canadians” goes to Hofsess’ movement. How nice.

Through his death, Austin Bastable hoped to leave behind a legacy of accomplishment, but did he? Referring to the fact that Canadian law does not permit doctors to kill their patients, Bastable called his death “a blow for freedom.” Of course, his reasoning was somewhat skewed. But on another level it was also right. His death is a blow for freedom—the freedom of the disabled to make their lives count for something in the eyes of the healthy. Just how much of a blow will be determined by whether or not the public remains convinced that Austin’s egocentric dream of changing Canadian law should remain just that—a dream.

John Hofsess however, believes that Bastable’s action will lead to other Canadians traveling to Michigan for “self-deliverance” (a Kevorkian term). If he’s right, it won’t be long before we’re hearing arguments similar to those which resulted in the legalization of abortion in 1969: That like the desperate women who had to go to Buffalo for an abortion, those wanting to end it all should not have to go to a foreign country to do so.

The bottom line is that unless God’s people raise one unified and decisive voice against its legalization, euthanasia will soon be here. To deny this would be to disregard the fact that public sympathy for so called “mercy killing” is growing in direct proportion to our financial crisis, that Sue Rodriguez’ killer still roams free and that Svend Robinson continues as a member of Parliament. However, it is unlikely that the scourge of euthanasia will be inflicted on us because of Austin Bastable. More likely, in spite of him.