No Compassion for the Mentally Ill
Canadians, or at least Canadian media elites, seem intent on creating a real-life version of what novelist P.D. James, in her novel “The Children of Men,” called “quietus”: that is, state-sanctioned mass suicide of the those deemed to be a burden to the rest of society. John Stonestreet told you about a recent article in Maclean’s magazine (think Time or Newsweek for our friends north of the border), that asked “Should doctors be paid a premium (for) assisting deaths?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Without such a “premium,” what Canada calls “medical assistance in dying,” “will exist in theory only, and not in practice.” That was just the beginning for Maclean’s. The August 15, 2017 issue told the story of a palliative care doctor who decided that, in addition to providing end-of-life care to dying patients, he would assist them with the actual dying. Not surprisingly, the story was wrapped in gauzy haze that made everyone involved appear noble beyond words: think noted humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, instead of Jack Kevorkian. There was no hint of where this ersatz brand of “compassion” could lead. For that, you only had to look back a few months in the magazine’s archives. A few months earlier, an article in the magazine argued that, although “It may make some people understandably uncomfortable… extending the right to assisted dying to the mentally ill is a compassionate solution.” I told you about the move to extend the so-called “right to die” to mentally ill people back in May. I told you back then that it was a terrible idea, and now that I’ve seen the rationale fully set forth, I’m looking for a word that’s stronger than “terrible.” The piece was written by Daniel Munro of the Conference Board of Canada whose stated goal is to—and I’m not making this up—build “a better future for Canadians by making our economy and society more dynamic and competitive.” According to Munro, it’s “not clear why” the principle that justifies euthanasia for the terminally ill “should apply any less to people with mental illness.” That “principle” isn’t compassion, which comes from the Latin for “to suffer with.” No, the principle Munro and others cite is autonomy—“allowing individuals to choose the time and manner of their deaths, just as we allow people to choose how they will lead their lives.” The New Testament Greek word for compassion is “splagchnizomai.” It means being moved in our guts, our bowels, in response to the suffering of others. But today, according to Macleans anyway, compassion means being careful not to violate someone’s autonomy. This enshrinement of autonomy goes a long way toward explaining why the “right to die” will not and cannot be limited to the terminally ill. If you begin with the assumption that people have a right to live and die as they please, then there’s no good reason to limit lethal medical assistance to only one group of suffering people. So we need to remember, as I told you in my earlier broadcast, that when a mentally-ill person says “please let me die,” you can never be certain whether it’s the person speaking or the mental illness speaking. What matters to Macleans is not interfering with how a person chooses to end their life. And that, my friends, is the exact opposite of a Christian worldview. In James’ novel, state-sanctioned quietus was the product of a society literally without a future. In Canada’s case, it’s being championed by people who claim to be working for a better future. Whatever the setting, compassion is the last thing we should call it.