As a Dale Carnegie business coach, I often kicked off the New Year with January workshops on goal setting and stress reduction. Both workshops focused on helping people use their time and energy to get the best results possible. Both were predicated upon the principle that all accomplishment begins with thinking: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
This year, I am horrified to realize that some Canadians are now wondering whether they should include suicide in their plans.
Listening to Justin Trudeau, you could the idea that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) is mainly around the idea of “choice.” Some Canadians are being given the opportunity to choose whether they want to live or to die. Canada won’t tell them which to choose; the choice is theirs. When you position it that way, it seems so helpful, respectful and dignified.
MAiD puts the official stamp of approval on the idea that choosing death is equal to choosing life. Whichever you choose, Canada will respect it.
But the very thought of “assistance in dying” flies in the face of humankind’s most vigorous, visceral instinct: survival. It opposes the simplest, most enduring wisdom we have: choose life.
I suggest that choosing death is not equal to choosing life. Both thoughts create a momentum that carries the thinker in a specific direction: one toward apathy, ending, and diminishing experience; the other toward growth, expansion, improvement and development.
The task of pondering whether to diminish and end or to expand and grow won’t be limited to the affected person. It will impact everyone around them, their families, their communities, and our whole society. After all, if people enduring poverty, disability or mental illness are going to choose death through MAiD, government agencies won’t need to look so hard for solutions to help them live.
By expanding MAiD to include non-terminal and solely mental illnesses, Canada is naively positioning the choice between life and death as a kind of consumer decision, like picking out a new iPhone case or buying a Tesla instead of Toyota. This dangerous message won’t be picked up only by terminally ill patients in their last painful days; it will be received and considered as an option by every depressed teen-ager, every financially devastated business owner, every sad person suffering a setback. Almost anyone enduring one of life’s inevitable bleak periods could be tempted to believe they might be better off dead.
In the past, the choice between life and death was not one most people thought they would need to make. This was decided by God, or fate. Now, it’s our problem to think about; it’s our “choice.” MAiD has let that genie out of the bottle: suddenly, everyone whose existence is difficult and expensive is pressured to ask whether the world and their loved ones would be better off without them.
Energy that should go to planning “How can I improve my current situation?” will get siphoned away by recurrent thoughts of “Should I even bother to try?” Ruminating overwhether to choose life or death will consume enormous amounts of intellectual and psychological energy few people can spare.
MAiD offers the idea that “dignity and respect” means allowing those who need help to decide whether to live or die. Actually, “dignity and respect” should mean focusing resources on helping everyone build the best life possible.
Canada was once famous for “Medical Assistance in Living.” Let’s get back to thinking about that.