Assisted Suicide Is Not The Compassionate Response To Disability

A Quebec man, Stephan Dufour, has been acquitted of assisted suicide charges despite clearly having assisted in the suicide of his 49-year-old uncle, Chantal Maltais. The media coverage is shocking. Mindelle Jacobs says there was no real harm done. Dufour’s mother is reported as saying, “we don’t let animals suffer, but we let people suffer without doing anything.”

It’s important that we start talking about assisted suicide, because cases like this (acquittal — even though there’s a clear violation of the law) come before a law is changed. When the debate hits parliament, we need to make sure that the argument against assisted suicide isn’t forgotten, as it is in the media coverage now.

We have a case where a man, stricken with polio since age 4 and wheel-chair bound, begs his nephew for help to end his own life. Rather than getting treatment for depression, rather than addressing the cause of his suicidal wishes, the man is given a rope and a dog choker. No, no harm done.

The charge that “we let people suffer without doing anything” is a serious charge. I don’t know the conditions that Chantal Maltais was living in, but if we think that the only way to “do something” is to kill him, we have a serious problem. The compassionate response to a suicidal person is not to give him suicide, but to address the sources of depression.

Jacobs claims, “there was no real harm done here — other than to the myth that endorsing assisted suicide will lead to open season on the disabled.” I’m not sure if that sentence could be much more self-defeating. By claiming that “no real harm” was done when a suicidal man with a non-terminal illness is given a rope and a dog choker (rather than real care and support) in the face of depression is an embodiment of the same lack of respect for the disabled that causes people not to value their lives. To say there was no harm done is to affirm that Maltais’ life was not worth living, the very basis and foundation for the “open season on the disabled” Jacobs tosses aside as a myth.

If Maltais was depressed, he needed counselling. If Maltais was in pain, he needed better pain management. If death is the only means we can offer someone with a disability in the face of depression, then we as a society have truly failed them.

We can be more compassionate than that.

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