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Personal Freedom and the Common Good

compassion-caringOn June 5th 2007 George Delury (74) committed suicide. For those readers who don’t remember him, Delury gained notoriety for the 1995 assisting the suicide of his wife, Myrna Lebov (52) at their Manhattan apartment. Although euthanasia advocates initially expressed confidence that Lebov had not been coerced, nothing could have been further from the truth. That’s exactly what happened! Delury let his wife know, in no uncertain terms, that she was a burden on him. Four months before his wife’s death, Delury made the following entry in his diary (which he let Myrna read):

“I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic] like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact it appears that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.”

Not exactly the sort of message to make a person feel valued, welcome, or wanted by their mate. The whole sordid story of what led to Myrna Lebov’s assisted suicide is chronicled in Wesley J. Smith’s book FORCED EXIT: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (Random House, 1997). It’s a critical addition to the personal library of anybody concerned about where North America is headed with euthanasia and assisted suicide. Smith presents insights about how Delury helped destroy his wife’s will to live “by making her feel worthless and a burden on him.”

This is an important point that must be considered when discussing or considering public policy sympathetic to assisted suicide. What takes the suicidal person to such a desperate and desolate point? Suicide (assisted or unassisted) is not natural. There resides within human nature a strong instinct toward self-preservation. But there is a stronger desire to be loved. Strip a human being of their connection to divine or human love, their sense of being wanted or needed, and they may eventually lose their will to live.
Hostile world

I am chronically ill with degenerative multiple sclerosis, and have been relegated to the life in a wheelchair and various indignities of a neurological disease attacking internal functions. I am acutely aware of the distance most people keep from me – be it physical or emotional. As unfair as it is, I am aware of the slightest expressions on people’s faces of pity, shock or disgust – sometimes real and sometimes just perceived. I am aware that I do not fit in and that people must make special accommodations to include me. There is always a little nagging question in the back of my mind: When they turn away, do they roll their eyes or grit their teeth?

People with chronic illnesses or serious disabilities live in an intolerant world that celebrates youth, beauty and health more than love. Each time I hear of an assisted suicide I wonder how many rolled eyes or gritted teeth did the person see? How many exasperated sighs did they hear when they asked for help?

Each time a public opinion poll reveals that 70% of Canadians favor assisted suicide, it reminds me that most of my fellow Canadian citizens believe its better to be dead than disabled and they agree with helping the disabled person kill themselves. They consider it compassionate.
Cheap compassion
Assisted suicide is a cheap compassion. It requires so little. Lofty goals of inclusion, reasonable accommodations can be suspended. And if autonomy can be twisted to include assisted suicide for the disabled then abandonment can be dressed as a virtue of self-deliverance. What previous generations called evil this generation will call good.
Assisted suicide is reserved for the terminally and chronically ill and the disabled, not the healthy and able-bodied. Why? Assisted suicide is really just hostility and bigotry against the sick and disabled.

Assisted suicide is cheap compassion because it is not really compassion at all. It does not require love or commitment to the common good of society. It celebrates self as the final authority. The eyeless “I” cries: “Every man for himself!” It calls to the individual who has sunk beneath the waves of circumstances, the miasma of depression or misery, and says you are your own master; you have no responsibility to the common good. Assisted suicide is aligned with human despair and says it is insurmountable. Euthanasia is murder and assisted suicide is a form of murder. It deforms the sacred image of both assister and assisted. It abandons the beauty of selfless love.

All true beauty stems from love – be it human or divine. Saint John tells us that God is love (1 John 4.8). As children of God (4.4, 5.2, cf. John 1.12) we are called to love one another. The Apostle tells us,

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. (1John 7-11)
It is a true community that is concerned about individual freedom – but individual form within the restraining influence the common good. The common good gives form in which individuals, and individual freedom, can flourish best. Individual freedom without love or responsibility to the common good leads to chaos. Love for others (and those yet to come) provides needed restraint to unfettered personal freedom.
Elizabeth Macdonald
That was the problem with the recent assisted suicide of Nova Scotian Elizabeth Macdonald (38). She had multiple sclerosis. Her husband said she was in excruciating pain since 1999—following her diagnosis. I have had MS for more than 23 years so I think I know a thing or two about pain associated with the disease. It’s easily controlled with proper administration of modern pain management techniques. If Elizabeth Macdonald suffered from excruciating physical pain for eight years, her physicians should be required to update their skills.
From the reports I’ve read, I find myself wondering whether the problem for Elizabeth Marshall was CONTROL more than pain control. Multiple sclerosis is unpredictable.

In the interests of maintaining transparency about Macdonald’s death, Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition rightful asked the RCMP to investigate whether Canadian law against assisted suicide had been violated (specifically Section 241 of the Criminal Code). Without the restraining influence of this law, other vulnerable people are at risk of seeking assisted suicide. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director, Alex Schadenberg, was met with a firestorm of criticism from autonomists.

The rule of law
Surely they believe it the principles laid down in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms which begins with the following statement: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

The rule of law! Apparently the autonomists do not believe in it. After all, laws have a restraining influence on autonomy. Schadenberg merely asked the valid and proper question about whether a Canadian law had been violated. The autonomists wanted no such determination. Their god is unfettered personal autonomy. They roasted Alex Schadenberg for daring to ask a legitimate question.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

I am glad there is an organization like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada to advocate life with dignity rather than death for people like me. I am glad there are people like Alex Schadenberg who dares to ask unfashionable questions. He has the courage to face detractors who would try to shout him down and would abandon the rule of law for the sake of any individual or cause.

Individual choices impact others. If I have assisted suicide, it will detrimentally impact my wife, children and grandchildren. It will affect my doctor because I will ask her to stop being a healer and start being an executioner. It will impact my community, and possibly even my nation, by helping to entrench the notion that there is such a thing as a life unworthy of life.

And that is why I do not have a right to ask for assisted suicide and you have a duty not to grant such a request.


Mark Davis Pickup is chronically ill and disabled with degenerative multiple sclerosis. He is an advocate for life issues and disability inclusion across North America. He and his wife, LaRee, have been married for 38 years. They live in Alberta Canada with their two adult children and five grandchildren. Mark is available to address issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and issues revolving around suffering that often fuel calls for euthanasia. He writes regularly at http://markpickup.org and http://humanlifematters.org. For bookings, contact him by e-mail at MPickup@shaw.ca or telephone (780) 929-9230. Mark Pickup's bi-weekly column can be read in the Western Catholic Reporter (Canada) at http://www.wcr.ab.ca/.


  • tjfoster62

    Strip a human being of their connection to divine or human love, their sense of being wanted or needed, and they may eventually lose their will to live.
    Wow that hits the nail on the head so to speak. Last fall when my mother broke her hip and was in severe pain the nurses asked her if she wanted to keep her MOLST form a full code and she said that she wanted to die. I was furious because what she had just asked for minutes before was more pain medication and had been told that she had to wait 3 more hours. What she really wanted was not to be in pain.
    My mother is now in a nursing home and has been expressing a desire to die. I know that she senses that it is hard for me to go there and told me a few days ago that when she dies I will no longer have to go there. I reassured her that I don’t wish for her death and that I am always in a rush but I do like going to see her (once I’m there). I noticed that this past Valentine’s and mother’s day she didn’t receive the usual flowers and other gifts that she had in the past (I have 11 other siblings) and I am certain that she took notice. I can only do my part to the best of my ability but it is sad to see the attention that she once received slowly die away.
    I wonder if that is why she keeps talking about dying. Each person knows in their heart what they can and cannot do for those family members who are disabled…we can each only do our best but we also MUST do our best.