Thursday, February 19, 2004

Who owns a life?

Very central to my politically formative years, a debate raged in my home province of BC about the right to die. Specifically, Sue Rodriguez, dying from ALS, wanted the high courts to legalize Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Canada. Her un-successful petition was characterized by simple, yet powerful four word statements like, "Whose body is this?" and "Who owns my life?" that I will always remember. Her words had a huge impact on me.

Debate raged in BC, and across Canada, about ethics and the legal exemptions that Rodriguez sought, and the possible implications of them - everything from Nazi death camps and mercy killings to mandatory death ages were flung about. The arguments were political and emotional, and it seemed everyone was involved.

I was against it myself, even angry at her request, and as an outspoken young politically aware adult, I said as much. If she wanted to die I had no reason to deny her suicide (a decriminalized act), but I didn't want to see the law changed. I felt that there was a security within the law that could be offered dying people who might otherwise be overwhelmed, or worse feel an expectation from society to end their lives in order not to be a burden to family or healthcare in general. Large parts of me still feel this way, but I have been tempered by the experience of reality over the years. Views and feelings evolve.

Now, a more mature Allie can recognize that Sue Rodriguez's plea was to be in control of her own death, to have the right to choose the time of her passing, and to die on her own terms. Facilitating one's own death is as integral to a person as planning other milestones in life, and further it could be considered the birth right of everyone. I respect the courage with which she faced her end, even if I disagreed with her approach.

Sue Rodriguez committed suicide in the presence of Svend Robinson and an anonymous doctor on Feb. 12, 1994, ten years ago. I was at peace with her suicide. I just wasn't able to reconcile it with the potential impact her death could have had on the people of Canada had her petition met with success. I still can't, but I sense this will not be last time Canadian's have a chance to debate this question, and as with all politics, I welcome its return.

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