(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday March 19, 2016)
MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ It was getting late and she, my 12-year-old, sat on the couch and looked into the nothingness and pulled from the air a comment as plain and profound as any.
“You know,” she said, “People don’t know how good they have it.”
This is what happens when you live in Africa. You see things. Life. People. Suffering. Death sometimes. You get perspective.
“They don’t know,” Liz said. “People don’t know.” Canadians don’t know. This is what she said. We were talking about nothing in particular; just what we each were learning, if anything, lately. “People don’t know.”
She elaborated and we, her family, listened, and then we all went to bed and got up the next day and that would have been the end of it, except, with this sort of thing, it never is. Not that in the following days anything more was said. It wasn’t. Nothing was said by or to my daughter about suffering or death: not hers, not mine, not some African’s, not even yours.
(I did, however, write about my own imagined demise recently in this space, about Old Man Froese, who, in 2049, in a not-very-brave new world, used end-of-life services to kill himself, useless as he felt, like an old phone to be tossed in the trash.)
But nothing was said to Liz about this. Nothing about how one man’s (or woman’s) garbage of suffering can be another’s gold.
Neither was anything said about how suffering is rarely as unbearable as it first seems; nothing on how you can win the lottery or wake up in a wheelchair, and your happiness, (after the initial shock) will settle virtually unchanged: this, according to studies, is the strange truth of it.
Nor was anything said about the joint-parliamentary report that’s now in Ottawa’s hands, recommending that both the mentally ill and, by 2019, “mature minors” be included in new Canadian legislation so anyone can end their own life when their suffering seems too great.
Nothing was said about how this eclipses the thoughts of even Canada’s Supreme Court. Nothing about how this is ringing alarms in Canada’s medical community.
Nor was anything said about how freedom, just like suffering, is often not what we think. Nothing was said, either, about June 6, the deadline for Ottawa to complete its legislation, and the day that is also my daughter’s birthday.
Certainly nothing was said about the unimaginable: that if my beautiful girl, a “mature minor” if there ever was one, were to somehow lose the wind and will of her life, then, for her Sweet 16th, she may be able to snuff it out with the support of the state.
Nothing had to be said. Liz had already said it all. “People don’t know.” They don’t know what they’ve been given. They don’t know what they have. They don’t know what they’re holding. (No, none of us know fully.)
But not only do Canadians not know what they have, they don’t know where they’re going. Not really. Not with this law. Not yet.
Of the world’s 195 countries, only a handful are even near this road. And the few signs point to where nobody wants to look. See Holland? Eleven years into its new euthanasia law and three per cent, one in 33 Dutch citizens, are using it to do themselves in. The exception has become the norm. One in 33 citizens. Read the European reports.
(And yes, Holland has safeguards. Checks. Ethics committees.)
Nothing was said about this either. Nothing about any warning. Nothing about any regrets.
Nothing about the remarkable cheapening of the courageous lives (and deaths) of those suffering terminally, those for who compassionate end-of-life legislation was initially meant.
Nothing about Canada’s old hope to be a healing nation from sea to sea.
Not that any of this is easy. That is the blessing and burden of free will. Still, life is a gift. The children, especially in Africa, know this to be true.
As part of the cycle, so is death. Yes, death is a gift, not a curse into the darkness. Earth is the darkness, the real shadowland. Billions of people believe this.
But grab death and scream “Mine!” And what does it turn into?