How a world with assisted suicide would look

 (The Hamilton Spectator – Monday, February 1, 2016)

It’s 2049 and I’m an old man. I’ve made my decision. (At least I thought I made it.) It’s for release.

I’ve been given a choice in a pleasant manner for an injection or capsules. Soon this will all be over, another release into elsewhere, into eternity.

They’re out there, opinion polls on this procedure, on “release,” what in your day was called “doctor-assisted suicide.” Apparently most people are in favour. You have to wonder, though, about the questions.

I mean, you might be asked: “Between grievous and unending suffering, or release, what would you prefer?” Of course anyone would say “release,” because for one, who wants any dog to suffer, never mind your neighbour, or, heavens, yourself? And, for two, there’s a certain implied courage, if not bravado, in declaring to even a stranger your power over your own end.

Stare death closer in the eye, though, and I can tell you that your knees and resolve will both weaken.

I realize that you have your own view from 2016, that hinge year when some Canadian doctors were breathless in the knowledge that for the first time they’d be required to take part in a practice, even implicitly by referral, that previously would have landed them in prison.

(“Doctor-assisted suicide” became “doctor-assisted death” became “doctor-assisted release,” before the simpler “release” entered our common lexicon some years ago.)

I remember when there was still debate on it. There was the slippery slope to consider. And society’s vulnerable, the voiceless.

I remember those doctors asking their professional bodies about new policies adhering to new laws. After all, for thousands of years doctors had sworn to preserve life, not help end it. Enough doctors (including my wife) wanted to continue this. What about their choice? How could the illegal, if not immoral, so quickly become a new professional standard?

But these sorts of words (“moral” and “immoral” and such) aren’t used much anymore in 2049. Old medical oaths were adapted to suit new times, because old words were, well, old. They were no longer relevant: a little like me, I suppose.

This is why I’m unsure. The truth is, I have and haven’t really made this choice. It’s just what people wanted. This is what I believed, anyway, for utilitarian reasons like health costs and family burdens. I’d go along like old and tired people can go along with things we can’t change.

I should tell you also that “grievous and unending suffering” isn’t what it used to be. To be honest, old (or sometimes just lazy) bones suffering with nothing more than the weight (and wait) of their final years can now easily find ways to successfully petition for release.

Some days the whole thing seems like a dream, pure fiction, not unlike a novel — “The Giver” — I read long ago with my children. There was this future place, further along than even my era, where people had somehow ended all pain and suffering. There was no war or crime or danger or anything undesirable. Even snow was gone!

No, there wasn’t a single tear to be wiped. But there was no touch anymore, either. Nor any intimate feeling. No music. No joy. Not even colour. Everyone in that place saw only grey. And love? (“What is love?”)

One nurturer from that novel injected a baby in his head. “There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he whispered gently before dumping the tiny body down a laundry-like chute. I suppose this is why I think of it now. It’s what I feel I’ve become — disposable.

I suppose those people didn’t end suffering any more than they ended murder. They just brought it home with different names. And I suppose in their great attempt to circumvent suffering, they just created a different suffering: an illusion, really, a façade of reality.

That story was just fiction, of course. Then again, truth, as the cliché goes, sometimes gets stranger than the strangest fiction. So I remain alone here with my choice.

Yes, pain and death will still come to each of us, and those we love, as it has always come through the ages. The difference now is this trembling and terribly human hand in it all.

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