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The Choice of a Medically Assisted Death

To the Editor:

Re “Euthanasia in Canada,” by Ross Douthat (column, Dec. 4):

Medical assistance in dying (MAID) has been a legal end-of-life option for eligible Canadians since the federal legislation was enacted in 2016. Mr. Douthat suggests it is a barbaric law leading to dystopia.

In a 2022 Ipsos poll, 86 percent of the population continued to support the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision (Carter v. Canada) that overturned Canada’s prohibition of assisted dying. Too many people have watched loved ones suffer from irremediable conditions. That experience was barbaric, and they now want autonomy and control over their end of life.

In 2021, the average age of MAID patients was 76.3, and 65 percent of them had cancer. Canada’s MAID assessors and providers are compassionate and careful in their work. They abide by the rigorous criteria and safeguards.

The choice of an assisted death is about compassion, avoiding suffering and the fundamental rights of an individual. I’m sure many Americans without access to assisted dying wish their laws were as compassionate and progressive.

Helen Long
Toronto
The writer is chief executive of Dying With Dignity Canada.

To the Editor:

Does everything have to devolve into caustic culture wars? Ross Douthat takes on medically assisted dying as an indication of the depravity of liberalism, and of the end of civilization itself. I beg to differ.

My brother, Peter, a resident of British Columbia since 1971, made use of Canada’s MAID laws in reckoning with the end of his life in October. He was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2005. It was finally his time to go, and he knew it.

He struggled mightily for 17 years, stemming multiple cancers, and living a highly fulfilling and productive life. But when his illness proved recalcitrant to multiple forms of therapy, he made plans to succumb to his cancer, dying on his own terms, with a minimum of pain and suffering.

His death was attended by his close family members and friends in addition to the gentle, courteous and professional staff of the MAID program. There was nothing dystopian about his life ending in this way. Rather than the end of civilization, his mode of dying was for him and his loved ones an elevation of a civilized life.

Noah Seixas
Port Townsend, Wash.
The writer is professor emeritus of public health at the University of Washington.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat claims that American conservatism is the real bulwark behind keeping the United States from eugenic calamity, as poor Canadians with disabilities are being euthanized for just that — being poor and disabled.

After eight years of fighting these insidious public policies, I beg to differ: The most effective opponents of assisted suicide laws are secular, progressive disability rights advocates. This is because disability advocates have had to fight just to get basic health care.

A recent Harvard study showed that many doctors don’t want to treat people with complex disabilities, even suggesting to some patients in wheelchairs to get weighed at the zoo or a cattle yard because they could not accommodate their disability. Earlier in the pandemic, people with disabilities were systematically deprioritized for treatment. Forced sterilization is still legal in over 30 states, primarily inflicted on disabled women of color.

The eugenic writing is on the wall: Disabled lives are not worth living, better off dead. Nobody knows better than the disability community that true autonomy presupposes people have choices and are empowered to make them.

Matt Vallière
New York
The writer is an emergency medical worker and the executive director of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund, which opposes assisted suicide.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat finds it “barbaric” that Canada has developed a “bureaucratic system” to facilitate the process of dying for those who choose to end a life made miserable by terminal illness or terrible suffering. Wearing his religion on his sleeve, he depicts the more than 10,000 Canadians who in 2021 opted for death on their own terms as victims rather than agents exercising a right that he does not believe is God-given.

He states, “When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.” Presumably, then, a system that forces that same 10,000 to suffer needlessly, perhaps for years, or die a violent, painful and terrifying death is not dystopian?

Jonathan D. Simon
Felton, Calif.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat argues against aid in dying, saying it is an uncivilized product of liberal culture. Usually I enjoy his balancing conservative perspective, but on this issue I believe he is simply wrong.

My parents each had their secret lethal dose of barbiturates, to take or to offer to each other if either of their lives became intolerable, such as with excruciating pain in terminal illness. They never used it, but having the means to end their life gave them great peace of mind that they could avoid intolerable pain and retain their human dignity and control over their life, come what may. What is uncivilized about that?

Yes, to prevent misuse and abuse, and lethal unwanted consequences, euthanasia must be tightly regulated. So it is with highway driving and powerful narcotics as well. This does not justify their removal from our life. Why deny us this life-enhancing benefit of modern civilization?

Peter Hunsberger
Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

I am a Canadian providing spiritual care in a nursing home and have accompanied residents in the MAID process.

Mr. Douthat calls Jennyfer Hatch’s medically assisted death a “suicide,” holding tight to his view that MAID is barbaric and an evil that only religious conservatism will stop. He questions whether people in a state of terrible suffering are really free.

I invite Mr. Douthat to imagine himself in this scenario: Modern medicine has kept him alive far longer than God ever would have. He’s cognitive but he can’t breathe on his own or talk or move. Drugs don’t touch his physical pain. Waiting for God to take him has become impossible. The only thing remaining is his dignity of choice.

Perhaps, in this state, Mr. Douthat will still have the spiritual strength to hold on and die a martyr.

Or, perhaps he will, in a flash of insight, see that God doesn’t disapprove of his choice to go home a little sooner than planned.

Celia McBride
Port Hope, Ontario

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reachthe National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

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