29 October 2008

Chilling Class

In reading about euthanasia, especially the Latimer decision, what has always stuck out to me is how quickly people sympathize with Robert Latimer and ignore Tracy Latimer. (For anyone not familiar with the case, Tracy was Robert's 12 year old daughter who suffered from cerebral palsy. He killed her to "end her suffering" by piping carbon monoxide into the cab of his truck, and was convicted of 2nd degree murder). See here to read the case. However, I have never really discussed the case with anyone who wasn't anti-euthanasia.

Until today.

In Disability and the Law.

With 18 law students.

Who will eventually be in the position to shape policy and legislation and maybe even interpret the law.

And all I can say is that I was chilled by the absolute callousness of the discussion. Nobody wanted to judge what Robert Latimer did. One said that he couldn't begin to imagine how hard the decision must have been, and that he was sure Latimer only did it out of love. Another said that the case left out an essential fact; that "Tracy was suffering unbearably and her parents tried to get help for her, but no one would give it." This is a law student, who presumably read the case, and the article we were discussing. In that, it was quite clear that Tracey's parents viewed further surgeries, which would have eased her pain, to be mutilations they couldn't support. But yeah, the essential fact that there was nothing anyone could do to ease her suffering was left out. Grrr! Selective reading anyone?

And no one wanted to talk about it from Tracey's perspective. I find that interesting, because in the very first class of the year, the professor mentioned that one of the things that hurts people with disabilities the most is the fact that they suffer from "benign neglect." That is, we make policies and decisions based on able-bodied persons without thinking of the impacts on persons with disabilities. And he encouraged us always consider what the impact of a decision is on people with disabilities. But apparently we don't have to do that when we are talking about euthanizing persons with disabilities because they aren't autonomous and able to consent. I'm not making this up!

One of the things we are taught in law school is that we need to open our minds to consider all elements of the issue, right from the basics, but in this class, everyone just assumed that there is such a thing as a "life unworthy of living." In fact, several people used that exact phrase to discuss the Latimer and Rodriguez cases, and the euthanasia/assisted suicide debate in general. And yet, doesn't that phrase implicitly assume its premise; the very thing we are taught not to do?

These are the same people who dismissed the Hendin and Foley (106 Mich. L. Rev. 1613 2007-2008) report on Assisted Suicide in Oregon as "completely biased." Apparently Hendin and Foley are wrong to advocate for palliative care because that assumes everyone wants palliative care, and don't really want to die.

These are the same people who spent 15 minutes discussing whether suicide can actually be the "logical, reasoned and rational choice." We had to ask this because, as lawyers we have to start from the basics and question everything. They analogized choosing suicide to choosing to refuse treatment.

These are the same people who agreed the Supreme Court of Canada is a conservative institution because of the elites who are appointed to it, and believe that the courts judgments reflect how society used to be, not how it is today.

I could go on about this, but you get the idea. I was absolutely horrified by the entire discussion, even more so when I remembered that these are the people who will help you draft your will, power of attorney and advanced health directive. These are the people who will run for and win political office at all levels of government. These are the people who will become civil servants and draft legislation. These are the people who will be appointed to the bench to interpret the law.

Is anyone else chilled by this?

1 comment:

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Oh, Sarah, spot-on!!!

Death is everywhere. Deceit is absolute. We need you, and people like you, to get out the word. You are doing outstanding work to inform people in Canada and the world about the dignity if living, versus the indignity if being killed because we are different.

Always argue, sometime maneuver, never concede,