Dying men need reasons to live.
The dog lies strapped to the veterinarian’s table, in the room they call “the Comfort Room.” It’s decorated to look the way it sounds. On the wall at her back, there’s a large painting of green trees. The counter at her head is filled with cheerful small things—a little wooden sculpture of pet and master, a framed picture of someone else’s dog, a plant. Her leash also lies there, set apart to be taken home when it’s all over. Her blanket hangs down off the bed. She doesn’t need it now.
This dog’s name is—was—Annie. Her master’s name is Les Landry. On Twitter, he goes by the handle @LandryLes. His adjustable username currently reads, “Les Landry is ready for #MAID.” The hashtag stands for “Medical Assistance in Dying.”
Landry is part of a whole “MAiD-curious” community in Canada, highlighted in a devastating recent report by Rupa Subramanya at Common Sense. Subramanya boldly exposes the program’s subtle predation on society’s most vulnerable, who see death as a tempting escape from a slow-grinding struggle with poverty, disability, and trauma. Landry, 65, calls it “the new safety net.” Wheelchair-bound, scarred by child abuse, and suffering from epilepsy, Landry believes that there’s “a tipping point where you can’t afford to live,” and he’s reached that tipping point. This sentiment is echoed by 40-year-old Mitchell Tremblay, an ex-prostitute and addict who believes MAiD will give him “dignity.” His Twitter bio reads, “Loser, failure and worthless disabled guy who gave up long ago.” Subramanya also highlights a disabled mother-daughter pair who have decided they can’t go on indefinitely eking out their disability support.
But her centerpiece case may be her most chilling: a 23-year-old young man named Kiano, who suffered from depression, diabetes, and partial blindness, and had made his own appointment with death without his mother knowing. He wasn’t in chronic pain, and he wasn’t facing poverty. He just decided he would prefer not to live. Through a chance log-in to his e-mail, his mother discovered the plan and staged a vigorous intervention. The ensuing publicity made the would-be death doctor so nervous that he dropped the appointment. Now the true battle begins for her: Convincing her own son that his life is worth living.
She will be far from the only mother fighting such a battle, as the expansion of the program to “mature minors” looms horrifyingly on the horizon. How is “mature” to be defined, exactly? Who knows? And what does it matter?
It’s worth looking at how Subramanya hangs the frame for her report. She begins with the well-worn argument peddled by many an “old-style” euthanasia advocate: People for whom death is imminent and life brings unbearable pain shouldn’t be forced to suffer. They must be allowed to choose the time and manner of their death. We might picture someone elderly in the late stages of cancer, or advanced ALS. The “reasonable, moderate” view, quietly put into practice by many doctors for many years, is that helping such people to die is a mercy. But reasonable moderates might reasonably recoil from the horrors unleashed by MAiD in Canada. They didn’t mean it to be like that. All they wanted was…
But of course, if assisted suicide isn’t inherently immoral, then what exactly is their argument for why a depressed young man with no future shouldn’t have just as much freedom to kill himself? Or even a depressed boy with no future? Their only out is to punt to some utilitarian calculus about how it’s not as clear that such situations might not change for the better in the future, about how children are immature and indecisive, and so on and so forth. If at any point they break down and say, “Oh hell. It’s just wrong to kill innocent people,” they’ve cut off the moderate, reasonable branch they were attempting to perch on all along. Such is the old liberal’s eternal dilemma.
For the rest of us, the task that lies before us is two-fold: Such laws must be fought, but so must the forces which are delivering people over to them. MAiD is first and foremost a business calculation, based on the laws of supply and demand. The powers that be have rightly—if ruthlessly—perceived the sheer amount of resources they will save, on the sheer number of people who would rather die than live.
Some might frame this as a crisis of economic social justice, declaring that the answer is yet more expanded government welfare. There may be many well-meaning voices in this chorus, sincerely horrified and eager to ease the burden of life for people in need. I remember once seeing a GoFundMe circulate for a Canadian woman who said if she couldn’t afford a particular living situation she was aiming for, she’d go through with MAiD. I felt some mixed feelings about this at the time. On the one hand, it was natural that people should want to help her. On the other hand, I hoped someone was also attempting to get through to this woman that whether or not she met her GoFundMe goal, nobody had the right to murder her, including herself.
And meanwhile, what of Kiano, with his depression and diabetic blindness? It wasn’t poverty that was driving him to make that appointment. It wasn’t lack of a GoFundMe. It was aimlessness. It was hopelessness. It was despair. The kind of despair a thousand disability checks will never cure.
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