Right to Die?

by Terry Oliver on August 1, 2012

Euthanasia is a touchy subject in most countries but here in British Columbia it is an especially sore point. And yet among the seniors I’ve talked to there is surprising support for the ‘right to die’. The opposition to it seems to come largely from the government, the establishment and of course from the fundamentalists of whatever stripe.

As a Buddhist myself , I am going against a basic tenet of the teachings in my position of support for euthanasia. Because everyone has a position, not just an opinion. They have those too, but ask anyone you meet where they stand and they will come down on one side or the other. Adamantly.

My interest in this subject is two-fold. As a 76 year-old, this could become an issue for me at any time and I want to be prepared and not have decisions thrust on me that I don’t want. And secondly, I have just finished writing a play about euthanasia.

There is currently a case for the ‘right to die’ which is under hot dispute here. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of a woman with ALS, granting her permission to take her own life in the next 12 months if her condition degenerated. Meantime, the judge challenged the federal government to rewrite the law in the coming year.

The newspapers and the media generally were full of discussions and debates here in B.C. and across the country when this judgment was delivered. In a matter of days, the federal government’s Attorney- General announced that he would appeal the decision. More uproar across the land. While we wait for the next step in the drama to unfold, op-ed articles in the press keep this a hot button topic.

But it is temporarily eclipsed by the bread and circuses distraction over in London. And it’s high summer here in Vancouver and we are all busy avoiding talking about anything serious for at least another month. Time for all that when the country returns to work in September.

Although I began writing my play over a year ago, it has benefited from all the hoo-haw and I’m hoping that a production will result from the attention.

Early on, I decided that the best way to approach the subject was not as a serious drama focusing on one or two victims caught in the legal meshes, but instead as a black comedy or farce. This allowed opportunities  to poke fun at all the ludicrous situations we get ourselves into, trying to defend the indefensible, without turning the play into a political tract.

My hope was to open up the whole subject of euthanasia and the’ right to die’ to a wider audience but not to suggest any pat answers. The topic is too important to too many of us to have some politician or self-appointed authority tell us how we should end our lives.

At  present the discussion is too black and white. We are bogged down in defending either the ‘for or against’ argument. The nuances surrounding how we approach ‘end of life’ issues need to be fully aired to provide the necessary safeguards against exploitation of  susceptible individuals. Switzerland, Oregon and Washington have already adopted partial solutions – the rest of us need to catch up.

With our rapidly aging populations this is a subject that deserves our attention. I hope my play, ‘A LEAP IN THE DARK’ will become a part of  this on-going debate.

What’s your ‘position’? I know you’ll have one.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Camilla Morrow August 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

You’re right about this being a hot topic, Terry; I can’t imagine anything more tragic than someone who has had an active fulfilling life ending it with tubes up their nose and kept alive by machines and painkillers for months or years, whose only wish is to move on to the next world. Why some people feel they have the right to tell others they cannot end their own life, is beyond me. In the end, I think that most people who truly want to die, will find a way – we always hear of elders who simply stopped eating, Inuit who walk out on the ice to die etc. But it would be humane of us to not make it so difficult for someone who is already struggling with illness or injury.

I wish you much success with your play, and hope it will encourage a deeper look at the theme, and some discussion.


Terry Oliver August 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Glad we’re on the same page on this subject, Camilla. Not sure how some people may react but I know which side I’m on in this debate. I’ve had some early positive feedback on my play and hope to workshop it soon – here or in San Miguel…

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