A note on dying with dignity

DonaldLow[NOTE: I wish I could properly cite the interview on which I am basing this post, but I just can’t find it.  If anyone can provide me with a link to the actual story, please let me know.]

On 25 September, around 7:00 pm, I listened to an interview on CBC Radio 1 (Toronto) of a professor of Disability Studies from Ryerson University.  The interview was essentially a commentary of a powerful video by Dr. Donald Low, the exceptional microbiologist who steered Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis. In that video, Dr. Low called for new standards to provide dying with dignity to everyone.  The commentary by the Ryerson professor, herself disabled, raised warning flags about Dr. Low’s call.

She talked – very eloquently – about all the different ways that one can define “dignity” as a social norm, and that any such norm would lead to a slippery slope that would end up with the disabled being euthanized without their consent because society had decided they lacked “dignity” in their lives.  Essentially, she argued that every life has some kind of inherent dignity that must be respected – even if that means denying them dignity in death.

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In Defence of Euthanasia

Euthanasia should be legal

Euthanasia should be legal

My father died in 2008, of colon cancer. He went into hospital April 17th and he died June 8th at the age of 91. For those seven weeks – most of which he spent in the palliative ward – he showed remarkable grace and dignity, in spite of what was happening to him and around him. There was relatively little physical pain, thanks to the drugs they administered.

At first, the doctors held out some hope that they could do something to help him.  There was a battery of extensive and conclusive tests conducted immediately upon his admission to hospital. By April 19th, they knew his condition was terminal, because the cancer had spread aggressively to his liver.

And that’s when my dad started asking, calmly and seriously, for a morphine overdose. Obviously, the doctors could not give it to him, but he continued to ask every time a doctor came to see him, until he was too weak to speak. Continue reading