The Eyeless “I” of Assisted Suicide

A Canadian court is considering a challenge to the nation’s law prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia. Consequently the topic is in the news. I received an email from a woman who doesn’t know what to think as the assisted suicide camp is pulling out all their compassionate sounding euphemisms to promote death. She wanted my thoughts. Below is the text of my comments to her:

Assisted suicide is not about pain control. Palliative care in the 21st Century has come so far as to be able to eliminate virtually all physical pain. Assisted suicide is about the illusion of personal control even over death.

Death is not a right, it is an eventuality that will visit us all regardless of what any law may state. It is life that must be protected. All the great human rights documents such as the American Declaration of Independence, the UN’s Declaration of Universal Human Rights and even Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms place the Right to Life as the first legal right. Why? Without the Right to Life assured all other rights become arbitrary and uncertain.

A truly progressive and compassionate society is concerned about life with dignity – especially for those who do not have it. Death with dignity is not an event, it is the natural conclusion of having lived with dignity. Dignity is not achieved by withholding water and food or injecting poison into a person’s bloodstream when they are at their lowest point. That is not dignity: it is profound abandonment! We have a right to expect the best palliative care and pain management.

Ask yourself how assisted suicide acceptance serves the Common Good? It doesn’t. It will put vulnerable people at risk.

The push for assisted suicide is the natural conclusion of personal autonomy gone amuck.

Gloria Taylor wants assisted suicide for herself which is different from suicide because it obviously requires assistance — a coarsening of some other person’s conscience. The eyeless “I” of assisted suicide1 does not consider the consequences to others.

Autonomy is diametrically opposed to community. The natural conclusion to unfettered autonomy is the right to even self-destruction. That is what is being considered in the BC Supreme courtroom as I write these words. Acceptance of the autonomy of suicide (assisted or otherwise) is to reject the interconnectedness of community. It proclaims with a final shout and sneer, “I am my own island!”

Canada is not 33 million little islands entire unto ourselves. As the 17th Century poet and divine, John Donne wrote “No man is an island entire unto itself. Every man is a part of the continent, a part of the main. … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Only independence and autonomy — the eyeless “I” — sees self and self alone. Interdependence and the interconnectedness of community call for consideration for others — especially the weakest.

You see, I do not have a right to ask or demand something that may hurt others. The independence of the individual must only exist within the interdependence of the community. If the desire of the individual threatens the security of whole then individual desires must give way to the greater interest of the community. Otherwise we are only left with 30-million little islands without the whole of a continent, a nation, a community that protects the interests of the weakest against the interests of the powerful.

And so the choice before us is stark: Independent and autonomy versus interdependence and community. Laws must protect the weakest and that’s what Canada’s law against assisted suicide does.



1.  Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (France, A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Ce., 1862). In his classic novel, Hugo wrote about a dark cavernous autonomy of individuals that can undermine societies and bring death to the soul of a civilization. He wrote, in part (emphasis, mine):

“The demon is dimly rough-hewn; everyone for himself. The eyeless I howls, searches, gropes and gnaws. The social Ugolino is in this gulf. …The savage outlines which prowl over this grave, half brute, half phantom, have no thought for universal progress; they ignore ideas and words; they have no care but for individual glut.”

That is why I used the phrase “The eyeless I.”  It is my view that we are witnessing the death of western Christian civilization.

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/.