A contradiction between suicide prevention and assisting suicide

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November 23, 2015

The coroner of Nunavut stated in September that suicide should be declared a health emergency in the northern territory in light of the 45 people who took their own lives in 2014 - a suicide rate 13.5 times the national average. Implicit in the coroner's call is the belief that suicide is a great tragedy.

New Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has called on the Canadian military to make suicide prevention a priority in light of the increasing number of soldiers and veterans - nearly 60, according to a Globe and Mail investigation - who have killed themselves in recent years. Again, the assumption is that suicide is a sign that the person taking their own life suffers from trauma or mental illness.

WCR columnist Mark Pickup (Page 15) points to a CBC report about the growing number of North American men aged 50 to 59 committing suicide. This is news, again, because of the implicit belief that suicide is undesirable.

Yet, in Canada, we are in the process of implementing a reckless Supreme Court decision legalizing assisted suicide, in effect calling upon physicians to help kill people who ask for such help. "Safeguards," we are assured, will be put in place, perhaps to prevent those who are depressed, minors or physically handicapped from availing themselves of this "service."

However, safeguards have predictably been eroded in other jurisdictions as euthanasia becomes an accepted part of the moral landscape just as abortion has become accepted in Canada.

A horrible contradiction exists between humanity's natural desire to prevent the suicide in most cases and the court's (and government's) desire to see suicide facilitated in other instances. In one type of case, it is assumed that the person committing suicide is not in their right mind; in other types, it is assumed that the person who wants help in killing him or herself is making a rational decision about the timing and circumstances of their death.

However, no neat distinction exists between supposedly rationally-chosen suicide and suicides resulting from mental illness or trauma. Even those in the latter category often believe their decision is rational. The lack of a clear distinction is one reason why "safeguards" fail to hold up.

The crisis Canada faces is not a lack of access to quick and painless death, but a lack of access to a loving, supportive environment in which death can occur naturally and with lessened suffering. Too many people are isolated or abandoned.

The first need is for more palliative care for those facing death. The long-term need is to restore the fabric of society, to again become a people who look out for one

another. One cannot legislate that, but the wrong legislation can only heighten the process of isolation already underway. The instinct to prevent suicide is the right instinct, and it ought to be implemented universally.