BreakPoint: No Compassion for the Mentally Ill

Canada’s Obsession with the “Right to Die”

Canadians, or at least Canadian media elites, seem intent on creating a real-life version of what novelist P.D. James, in her novel “The Children of Men,” called “quietus”: that is, state-sanctioned mass suicide of the those deemed to be a burden to the rest of society.

John Stonestreet told you about a recent article in Maclean’s magazine (think Time or Newsweek for our friends north of the border), that asked “Should doctors be paid a premium (for) assisting deaths?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Without such a “premium,” what Canada calls “medical assistance in dying,” “will exist in theory only, and not in practice.”

That was just the beginning for Maclean’s. The August 15, 2017 issue told the story of a palliative care doctor who decided that, in addition to providing end-of-life care to dying patients, he would assist them with the actual dying.

Not surprisingly, the story was wrapped in gauzy haze that made everyone involved appear noble beyond words: think noted humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, instead of Jack Kevorkian.

There was no hint of where this ersatz brand of “compassion” could lead. For that, you only had to look back a few months in the magazine’s archives. A few months earlier, an article in the magazine argued that, although “It may make some people understandably uncomfortable… extending the right to assisted dying to the mentally ill is a compassionate solution.”

I told you about the move to extend the so-called “right to die” to mentally ill people back in May. I told you back then that it was a terrible idea, and now that I’ve seen the rationale fully set forth, I’m looking for a word that’s stronger than “terrible.”

The piece was written by Daniel Munro of the Conference Board of Canada whose stated goal is to—and I’m not making this up—build “a better future for Canadians by making our economy and society more dynamic and competitive.” According to Munro, it’s “not clear why” the principle that justifies euthanasia for the terminally ill “should apply any less to people with mental illness.”

That “principle” isn’t compassion, which comes from the Latin for “to suffer with.” No, the principle Munro and others cite is autonomy—“allowing individuals to choose the time and manner of their deaths, just as we allow people to choose how they will lead their lives.”

The New Testament Greek word for compassion is “splagchnizomai.” It means being moved in our guts, our bowels, in response to the suffering of others. But today, according to Macleans anyway, compassion means being careful not to violate someone’s autonomy.

This enshrinement of autonomy goes a long way toward explaining why the “right to die” will not and cannot be limited to the terminally ill. If you begin with the assumption that people have a right to live and die as they please, then there’s no good reason to limit lethal medical assistance to only one group of suffering people.

So we need to remember, as I told you in my earlier broadcast, that when a mentally-ill person says “please let me die,” you can never be certain whether it’s the person speaking or the mental illness speaking. What matters to Macleans is not interfering with how a person chooses to end their life. And that, my friends, is the exact opposite of a Christian worldview.

In James’ novel, state-sanctioned quietus was the product of a society literally without a future. In Canada’s case, it’s being championed by people who claim to be working for a better future. Whatever the setting, compassion is the last thing we should call it.

No Compassion for the Mentally Ill: Canada’s Obsession with the “Right to Die”

The Christian alternative to assisted dying is to provide compassionate palliative care to those who are physically and/or mentally ill. As Eric reminds us, compassion leads us to suffer with those who suffer.



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  • Phoenix1977

    “So we need to remember, as I told you in my earlier broadcast, that when a mentally-ill person says “please let me die,” you can never be certain whether it’s the person speaking or the mental illness speaking.”
    What’s the difference? Where is the line between a person and his (mental) illness? In virtually all cases society (and patients themselves) identify the patients by their illness or the disability. You can’t deny the first thing you see when you meet someone who cannot walk is the wheelchair, just as you can’t deny the first thing you remember from a victim in a fire are the burns. It’s simply human nature to categorize people like that. It’s not pretty and it’s not right but it simply is.

    “But today, according to Macleans anyway, compassion means being careful not to violate someone’s autonomy.”
    Not only according to Macleans. Most of the medical community feels the same way. Unfortunately, not all.

    Let me share a patient with you. A young man, just a few years older than me, who I recently lost on my watch. And when I got home I took a drink and made a silent toast to him because he finally found the peace he was denied for so long.

    My patient was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia with violent tendencies towards himself and others at the age of 17. From that moment on he was in and out of mental institutions because he was a true danger to himself and others due to him illness. During those first years (according to his mother from the early age of 19) he expressed the will to die. But he couldn’t. Because people were monitoring him too closely.

    His first suicide attempt was at the age of 27, the first of a total of 17. And he was serious about them, trust me. Drinking 1500 cc of antifreeze normally will kill you, if not that day your brother decides to pay you an unexpected visit. And more of that. But every time we “saved” him, just as we “saved” him from his first myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest due to the ischemia, and the two brain infarctions due to clot forming in a bad heart, as the brain bleed due to anticoagulants when he forcefully banged his head against a wall in order to cause said brain bleed. And more and more and more. In total we “saved” him from 17 suicide attempts, 2 brain infarctions, 3 myocardial infarctions, 1 brain bleed, 4 incidental drug overdoses (so no suicide attempts) and we had to perform CPR on him a total of 26 times, of which 4 times in the last 5 weeks of him life. And that final cardiac arrest finally got him what everyone denied him for so long: peace and quiet. After all what he had gone through his brain was finally damaged enough for his body to shut down. My patient died at the age of 48. It took him 21 years to die!

    Is that compassion? Is that humane? We exhibit more compassion with road kill than we did with my patient! We show more mercy to our sick pets than we showed to my patient! We treat our life stock we breed for slaughter more humane than we did my patient!
    I sincerely hope he is now finally at peace and that he will forgive us for all the suffering and torture we have put him through. And if he is at peace now it’s not because of us but despite us, all in the name of love!

  • William

    Imago Dei, the image of God. The slippery slope has begun and it is wrong.

    • Steve

      First it is the “right to die.” Then it is the expectation to die. Then it is the mandate to die. This culture of death and utilitarianism demeans life and is self-propagating.

  • Dave Allen

    I’ve always thought it was socially schizophrenic to believe in the goodness of evolution and at the same time support the survival of the weakest.