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Why Canada Will Never Legalize Assisted Suicide

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Legally assisted suicide is an issue that is periodically debated, and a new Forum Research poll indicates that two-thirds of Canadians support the idea.

When 67 per cent of the those polled favour something, it's usually a slam-dunk -- unless it is Joe Clark asking Tories if he should remain as leader (1983), and finding 67 per cent approval is short of what he thinks he deserves. Make way for Brian Mulroney.

While doctor-assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands and Switzerland, it's unlikely to gain traction in North America in the near future. The reason: We aren't convinced those who would make life-death decisions would do so in the applicant's interests and not the bureaucracy's.

The message of the 1973 movie Soylent Green still resonates when it comes to what is euphemistically described as "assisted" deaths.

In the movie, there was an over-abundance of people and a growing shortage of food resources, so those slated for dispatching to the Hereafter were sedated in peaceful surroundings, showing wall screen movies of forests, picturesque mountains, and rolling plains, while they were gently put to eternal sleep.

The kicker was that dead bodies were then used as a food supply for the living.

While we don't have a food shortage that necessitates cannibalism, there's still a lurking suspicion that medical and other government funded institutions might unnecessarily speed up the death process to get rid of the patient backlog, and to reduce the annoyance and cost of elderly care.

Most of us who think we approve of assisted suicide, remember Sue Rodriguez begging for help to end her suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. We like to point out that we "assist" our dogs and cats to die when pain becomes intolerable, but not humans. We love our pets so profoundly that we cannot bear to think of them suffering.

If only it were that way with people. But it isn't.

As it stands now, we all know -- or think we know -- that on occasion family doctors do the merciful thing and help some patients to die. That can be comforting, even though it's technically illegal.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, is quoted in the National Post saying "Canadians really do fear dying in painful situations . . ."

I'd argue that it isn't the prospect of "pain" that most worries people about dying, but the indignity of it. Most of us dread the thought of being helpless, or expiring in a way that is upsetting for those we care about.

If there was some way of ensuring that we'd get the chop quickly and decently when our time is done -- and are not taken too abruptly to the head of the queue just to make room for others -- those favoring assisted death would likely be in the 90 per cent range.

Otherwise, let's keep the process the way it is, and trust family doctors to do the decent thing when it is genuinely required, and needs no formal or legal approval.

Of course, this is predicated on the assumption that Muslim suicide bombers have got it wrong -- that Paradise doesn't exist the way they think (or hope) it does. Otherwise, we'll need another poll to determine how the majority feels about it.

Still, as a society, there's irony that our love for our animals is more merciful than our treatment of ailing loved ones whom we often won't help to find peace.

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