End-of-Life, Humanity

Decriminalize Assisted Suicide: Why Not?

If the federal government is leaving medical care and health care to the provinces as in making transfer payments and each province implements its own health care and medical care, than why are they not doing the same with assisted suicide or dying with dignity? How can refusing medical treatment or assisted dying be considered criminal? Quebec has decided assisted suicide or dying with dignity is part of medical care and should fall under the jurisdiction of the province vs. being a federal matter. Quebecers overwhelmingly support this-making assisted dying a possibility. Considering all the negative one reads and hears about with Quebec re: language laws and discriminatory legislation aimed at anglophones (English-speaking ) and allophones (mother tongue other than English or French) and in a sense French speaking Quebecers (not able to attend English schools) as well, it is nice to know that Quebec is progressive on some issues. The Federal criminal code prohibits assisted dying-redefining it as a provincial health matter. In 2012, the province of British Columbia declared in a ruling that criminalizing assisted dying is unconstitutional according to the BC Supreme Court.

The federal government appealed this decision-we are waiting a verdict. Does this issue not fall under individual freedom? Individual rights? Medical Care?

The Canadian Medical Association met last week for a policy convention and no recommendation was issued on the topic. How can that be? Other countries offer their citizens this choice……

Suicide itself is not illegal in Canada, but attempted suicide was not removed from our Criminal Code until 1972. However, counseling suicide – sometimes referred to as aiding and abetting suicide, still remains a criminal act.

Assisted dying is a choice that an individual may make for an illness, disease or medical condition that is terminal, causes unbearable pain, loss of mobility, ability to communicate verbally or cognitively-ability to make choices in a rational manner. It is not a choice that should be available to just anyone without the proper medical or mental health support from physicians, nurse, social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. This requires an inter-disciplinary team consultation and collaboration with the patient and family. Assisted suicide is also an issue I have written on before: Assisted Suicide and End of Life Rules on Social Justice Solutions (SJS).

Why are other provinces, states, countries not making dying with dignity a front and center issue? Imagine being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)- a fatal neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s, cancer that slowly metastasize to your internal organs knowing that slowly your body will be ‘robbed’ of its mobility and basic functions? The pain is unbearable and no medication can get to the root of it. What would you choose for your child, your spouse, your parent, your best friend? Would you want them to suffer unnecessarily? Would you support their decision to die with dignity? What would you want in the same situation?

These are not easy questions, but they deserve the same attention one would give to basic human rights of shelter, food, education, clothing and employment.

Why is it acceptable to relieve an animals suffering and put them to sleep with the advice/consultation of a vet, but this same option is not available to humans?

I hope to see dying with dignity or assisted dying become a front and center issue as the population continues to age and more fall into the over 65+ demographic. Here is a website worth looking at: Dying with Dignity.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

Humanity, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Social Work, Leadership and Community

A fabulous leadership book which has  important lessons for any profession is Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage by Richard Stengel. Where Westernized society is focused on individualism with its roots in the Renaissance,  the culture that Mandela comes from believes in ubuntu-brotherhood.

A phrase that comes from a Zulu proverb, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabanto which is translated as:  “A person is a person through other people.”  Community, where we do nothing on our own is very different from individualism. “Ubuntu sees people less as individuals than as part of a complex web of other human beings.”

To me, there is a link with social work and other helping professions. We are not an island to ourselves. The end goal is to help others, but also to integrate individuals into society at large. We are not just individuals, but individuals that are part of a larger community.

Those that choose to live with others of their own culture or ethnicity do so for the sense of community, similar values, similar beliefs, similar food preferences; because of culture and familiarity. In reality no matter what religion or culture we are, all humans are part of the ‘larger’ community.

After reading this book I admired Mandela’s vision and end goal even while in confinement in prison. He wanted the people of South Africa to live together. He wanted blacks to have freedom in their land and to be part of the overall community and for whites to accept and welcome this. Now, many may not agree, but when you think about it, we are all humans who happen to have different religious beliefs and practices, who come from different cultures and have a mixture of traditions, values and morals.  This does not mean that we cannot work towards the larger goal of the community. This larger community is all cultures, ethnicities and religions mixing; living in neighborhoods together, attending school together, working together while respecting one another.  Perhaps this is a dream of mine, but I think it is a great dream.

A leader is one who shows his leadership in public and private and they are the same. The values are the same and no contradictions. Leaders at times will disappoint and not fulfill promises, but the goal is to reach the majority. Leaders listen to both sides and hope each will see and hear what the other is stating. Typically the two sides can merge their ideas together to some extent and come up with a new goal/vision and it is done in such a way that neither side feels they lost or were unheard.

Some characteristics that make one a leader are: Self-discipline, confidence, willingness to share credit, willingness to listen, self-control, sensitivity, vulnerability and the ability to verbalize when one has made a mistake. Leaders can be charismatic and charming, generous, polite, cruel and selfish, but the end goal should be about community.

Mandela was a man of courage. He also triumphed as he did not let prison destroy his goal or his integrity. He wanted to unite South Africa. Courage plays a part here as one who stands up to the opposition has to have courage. One who stands up to his persecutors (prison) has to have courage. Those of us who believe social work is not respected enough, valued enough or embraced often enough have to have courage.

I continue to read and hear of grumblings amongst social workers and often pause and think why is this so? Social work and teachers-two needed professions, but not valued by society and the pay is low. Why is this? Imagine even if only for 1 day, all social workers and teachers walked off the job- would we be missed? Would we have more value in society’s eyes? Why do social workers not unite and challenge society on this issue? Some are well paid, many are not, but the reasons for going into the profession are admirable; the desire to help others, to follow a calling and to make a difference-same for teachers.

What are your thoughts and do you value being part of a community that unites rather than divides? Do you have the courage to stand up for what is right? Will you stand by your professional beliefs and values even if they are not embraced by the majority? Sometimes the basic question is: Do you want to be a leader or a follower?

By Victoria Brewster, MSW