|author Irene Ogrizek|
This article by Irene Ogrizek first appeared on her blog:
When it comes to the euthanasia debate, the theme of “It’s my life and I get to choose,” seems to be flaunting a liberal, leftist mantle. This wardrobe malfunction comes to us courtesy of Canada’s neo-liberals, particularly those in the media, who are trying to shape opinion in favour of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.
This is a problem for me. I am decidedly non-religious, socialist and left-wing; I believe the disadvantaged in Canada are still being maltreated; I still see intolerance and think it’s a problem. And I oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide — which are pretty much the same things — on those grounds.
Dying-with-Dignity’s promotion of individualism, an idea attractive to younger adults, is troubling in many ways. While an intense focus on oneself is a necessary step to becoming an adult, it’s like most things in life: there comes a time when it should stop. For most of us, learning the art of compromise means maturing and avoiding a life of incessant combat and bitterness.
In a similar way, Dying-with-Dignity’s appeal to our individualism is a bit like a corporate world that uses our childishness and greed to stay in business: most of us like having extra money, clothes or gadgets and do not like being told what to do. Legalizing euthanasia, unfortunately, is immune to those more mature considerations of compromise: once a person is dead, there is no going back.
Why do I care? I am very interested in people. I like examining the lives of others, love reading Alice Munro’s stories that do the same, and enjoy hearing a good tale, well told, of the various dramas in my friends’ lives. Listening gets me out of my head and confirms that my suffering is merely garden variety, a fact that comforts me more as I age.
However, that interest is one slice of a larger pie and that pie is an analogy for the kind of socializing I was taught. My parents were postwar immigrants, part of a group who came from the border area of Austria and Slovenia. Like all ethnic ghettos, this was a group that worked together much of time, helping one another build barns and houses, and sharing farm equipment with new arrivals until they could afford their own.
For all that warmth, however, less pleasant aspects of ghettoization, namely depressing levels of gossip and moralizing, were part of the deal too. Like many young people, I rebelled against those incursions into my private life and made a break for it when I could. I attended university in another city and found values I thought were my own.
Those tendencies toward caring about others never left me, although as a younger person I suspect they were dormant some of the time. Now, as someone in my fifth decade, I have a feeling of coming full circle. Taking care of my mother, in the aftermath of a catastrophic stroke, has stoked the compassionate part of my psyche, cultivated in me as a child, and has made me aware of just how closely connected we all are.
This happened because I was raised by parents who believed in unions, in women’s rights, and in standing up for the underdog. They ignored a priest’s admonitions and rented an apartment to a divorced, single mother in the early 1960s. Rental rules protecting these women came in later for a reason, so I’m happy knowing my parents followed their consciences. That single mother, years later, gave me a full account of just how much my parents had helped her: they had done much more than I thought. I’m glad this woman told me and glad I was raised by parents who were such profoundly decent people.
Given my beliefs, I feel we should reject euthanasia for its anti-social potential. Legalizing it may pressure the vulnerable to solve their problems by volunteering to die. The elderlymay feel pressured to leave inheritances to grandchildren, and the mentally afflicted may think the world is better off without them. Making it possible for the severely depressed to donate their organs, furthermore, might add a layer of altruism to their final act, might give them an opportunity to feel useful and magnanimous, even at the expense of their own lives.
Like most things, levels of societal empathy are cyclical and vary from era to era. That we are in a particularly narcissistic one seems obvious to me. Think of walking past a person teetering on a bridge, getting ready to jump. I’d like to think most of us would intervene, but is that true?
I think of my own interventions. An early morning fire in a three storey walk-up. I lived on the top floor and knocked on doors on my way out. (Another tenant on the first floor, whose smoke alarm had gone off, was doing the same.) Smoke was billowing up from the basement and the building’s fire alarm had failed.
On another occasion at work: I’d just sat down to run a film clip when a group of students began behaving oddly outside my classroom. I felt no sense of urgency, just an impulse to know what was going on, which I acted on. This was seconds after Kimveer Gill opened fire on students in the cafeteria at Dawson. Because I was curious and asked, I was able to evacuate my class quickly.
What might a committed individualist, a mind-your-own-business kind of person have done?
I can tell you. Once all of us had evacuated the walk-up, we discovered a couple from the
second floor had made it out earlier and had not raised the alarm. They were sitting comfortably in their car across the street, watching the rest of us shiver in the frigid weather. Understandably, there were tense times in the hallway after that.
|Tributes left at Dawson College|
At Dawson, there was a rumour about teachers who had abandoned ship without evacuating students. It arose in the emotional tumult of the aftermath, however, and turned out to be false. As far as rumours go, it had the potential to be quite powerful. Imagine hearing your child’s teacher had fled the scene of a shooting, leaving his students behind.
(ED: The Dawson College shootings occurred in 2006. You can read more HERE)
Yet it’s this kind of individualism that seems to be dominating the euthanasia debate. It’s all about me, me, me, when it’s clear that we, we, we, is more appropriate, given that this is a complex social issue we’re trying to navigate. My more liberal-minded and leftist friends are surprising me and not in a good way. Certainly we all follow a paradigm of thinking that supports being inclusive? The disabled, especially, have fought hard to be treated equally in the last few decades and the vast majority do not want legalized euthanasia in any configuration. Their reasoning is sound: why are we abandoning them now?
The vulnerable – the elderly, the disabled and the mentally afflicted — deserve our care and consideration. We must, if we think of ourselves as open-minded and free-thinking people, take their and their carers’ concerns into account.
It’s what my parents would do.