REGINA — Assisted suicide as an end-of-life option may end the suffering of an individual but that choice has social and ethical consequences for society, said Dr. Brett Salkeld in a March 31 address at the University of Regina’s Student Union bar.
Salkeld is the Regina archdiocesan theologian, and at the invitation of the Campion College, University of Regina Knights of Columbus delivered his analysis of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision to strike down the criminal law against assisted suicide.
Salkeld began with two premises. “First, it is our duty to limit suffering as much as possible, and second, eliminating suffering is impossible.”
He continued: “If our legitimate zeal to limit suffering fails to recognize suffering cannot be limited, we will cause a great deal more suffering.”
His presentation contained no references to biblical or Catholic teaching. He stayed in the secular world to show the impact a legalized assisted suicide regime would have on society. He explained how it would change a doctor’s job description to include killing; how choice would increase the burden on those on their death bed, perhaps pressured to accept suicide; how difficult it would be to decide who suffers more; how those dealing with mental illness, disabilities, children with terminal illness, would be affected and how are decisions made for those incapable of making a decision on their own.
Using his grandparents living in a care home as examples, he showed how they are cared for and are not faced with a decision whether to end their lives.
“They are free to live without counting the cost that their existence puts on their families and the health care system. The so-called ‘choice’ to die would take away that freedom.” He quoted French literary critic and anthropologist Rene Girard who said that euthanasia will make death even more painful. “It will make death even more subjectively intolerable, for people will feel responsible for their own deaths and morally obligated to rid their relatives of their unwanted presence.”
Once someone could choose to die, there is no avoiding the question of whether they should choose to die, said Salkeld. “Consider the fights even relatively stable families have over inheritances. If we imagine those considerations will play no role in the pressure exerted on certain inconvenient people, we are naive.”
The loss of human dignity in some end-of-life situations is often used to argue for assisted suicide, but Salkeld argues human dignity is not dependent on an individual’s ability “to recognize a face or control one’s sphincter. Only the conscious choice to do evil can reduce our dignity. Human dignity is not something that can ever be lost involuntarily. And it can never be linked to any characteristics that are merely accidental to our common humanity.”