Life and death debate coming to Sarnia

Cathy Dobson

Sarnians have a rare chance to weigh in on Canada’s doctor-assisted suicide debate, just as a pivotal Supreme Court hearing on the issue gets started.

The contentious hearing begins Oct. 15 in Ottawa, one day before a forum is held at the Sarnia Library Theatre featuring representatives from each side.

“It’s very timely with the Supreme Court hearing underway,” says Allan McKeown, a celebrant with the Unitarian Fellowship of Sarnia and Port Huron, which is hosting the event.

“The majority of Unitarians are in support of end-of-life choices. We don’t use the word suicide at all,” said McKeown. “Suicide is an act of desperation by someone severely depressed.

“This is a rational decision by someone who does not want to suffer terribly at the end of life.”

Alex Schadenberg, founder and executive director of the London-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, will participate in the debate with Michael Payton of the Dying with Dignity advocacy group.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” said McKeown. “The big concern I hear is about the possibility of a slippery slope and how legislation allowing choice could impact the handicapped.

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide.

Incurably ill but mentally competent adults would be given the right to receive medical assistance to hasten death.

Those who argue for physician-assisted suicide frequently point to shortcomings in palliative care that neglect to keep a dying patient comfortable.

“I want to make it clear that we are 100% in support of palliative care,” said McKeown. “It’s great in 97% of cases, and Sarnia has particularly good palliative care, but we need to consider the percentage of cases that palliative care doesn’t help.”

While Sarnia, with a hospice and palliative care hospital unit, is better equipped than many communities to deal with end-of-life issues, a large number of Canadians have no access to palliative care, McKeown said.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t allow for physician-assisted suicide, even though the debate has been raging nationally for 20 years.

“This is a social justice issue that’s been on the Unitarian’s radar for a very long time,” said McKeown. “We see it as a civil rights issue.”

 

WHAT: Debate featuring Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Michael Payton of Dying with Dignity.

WHEN:  Thursday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Sarnia Library Theatre, 124 Christina St. South

TICKETS: It’s free.

Q & A with the audience will follow the debate with moderator Richard Poore.