Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Tuesday, March 2, 2021

When life becomes intolerable

Sunday February 28, 2021

The federal government in Ottawa has proposed a new bill that would allow Canadians suffering from “grievous and irremediable mental illnesses” – the wording comes from a Canadian Press report – to opt for a medically assisted death.

            In two years. 

            If they choose to do so. 

            And that’s the key. The revised legislation will permit them that choice. The previous legislation didn’t.

            The original Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) law, which came into effect in June 2016, required the person seeking assistance in dying to be capable of consenting. 

            They not only had to declare their intention to seek medical assistance in dying, they had to be capable of confirming that decision at the moment of action.

            Like the traditional qualification for jury duty, they had to be “in their right mind.”

            Which excluded persons suffering from various forms of cognitive impairment –those in a coma, or unconscious from pain medication, or who had Alzheimer’s Disease, or who had suffered brain damage… 

            In other words. a lot of people. 


Parliamentary ping-pong

            In September 2019, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that those exclusions violated some individuals’ constitutional rights. 

            The federal government has now modified its legislation, and sent it to the Senate, which further modified it, and sent it back to the House of Commons, which will modify it more and return it to the Senate, which will give it further consideration….

            The mass media have been preoccupied following the bouncing ball through parliament. But not, I think, following the central issue. 

            Which is about consent. Or its flip side, of imposing one’s will on someone else. 

            Consent, these days, is a term usually applied to sexual relations. Did she consent to violent sex? Did the university students consent to taking part in sexualized initiation rituals? Did a succession of young women consent to being sexual toys for millionaire clients?

            But consent goes far beyond that. 


Imposing one’s will on others

            Our most heinous crimes, generally speaking, are those in which one person imposes his will – most often his will, but also hers – on an unwilling victim. 

            Murder is the most obvious example. One person kills another. Obviously, without the victim’s consent. 

            The same principle holds for rape. Or physical assault – domestic or otherwise. Or robbery. Or home invasion. 

            We consider it wrong for one party –in the legal sense of that term – to impose its will on another party. 

            Unfortunately, that principle has been ignored, until now, in a few contentious areas. 

            Let me take abortion as an example. (Always a contentious subject.) 

            On the one hand, a mother – who may or may not have consented to becoming pregnant – imposes her will on a fetus that cannot yet express its own wishes.

            On the other hand, a group of outsiders – in the U.S., a collusion of elderly white male politicians – imposes their standards, their values, to prevent that mother from having an abortion. 

            It seems to me just as wrong to say a woman cannot have an abortion as it would be to require that she must have an abortion.


Whose decision is it?

            Those two extremes seem to me to parallel the arguments around medically assisted death. 

            On the one hand, there are those for whom life has become intolerable. Because of sickness, disability, frailty, racial prejudice, whatever. Only that person can define what “intolerable” means. No one else can, or should. 

            On the other hand, there are those who believe life is sacred. That no human has the right to end a life. Not even one’s own life.

            They fear that people who have become an inconvenience to their family or to society will be pressured into seeking an early exit. 

            Pretty much everyone agrees that would be wrong. 

            Again, it seems to me just as wrong to argue that a person may NOT seek assistance in dying, as it would be to line them up for the gas chamber.

            No one should be making that decision for the person most directly involved. 

            I don’t believe that the MAiD option will be abused – at least, not extensively. Since MAiD was introduced, five years ago, about 7,000 people have taken advantage of it. A tiny fraction of roughly 1.4 million total deaths over the same period, around 280,000 every year. 

            My wife would have qualified for medical assistance in dying. She chose not to use it. She discussed it with me. But it had to be her choice, not mine. 

            What will I do, when my time comes? I don’t know. But I don’t want a distant  someone making that decision for me. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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As I expected, I got a lot of letters about last week’s column on gun control. 

            Several were complimentary. Thank you for those – you know who you are. 

            Most of the other letters were long, and angry. I’m not going to print them. Very few came from subscribers to Sharp Edges, so they would not have known they might be quoted. 

            One writer – out of 20 or so – invited me to talk. We did, for about an hour. He lives outside of Toronto. He read the column on Facebook. From what he could tell, an angry gun owner had “shared” my column with his friends, who shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends, and so on. 

            That’s how the word has spread on previous occasions too. This time, though, the responses came only from Canadians. On previous occasions, when the U.S. gun lobby got hold of a column, I’ve been attacked from all over the world. Even in other languages. 

            I was pleased, this time, that only about half the letters resorted to invective and venom. Some of it:

·      full of many factual errors and skates the line of untruth. 

·      hard to believe this individual calls himself a journalist. 

·      his article is completely biased and has no value except to vilify law abiding gun owners. 

·      fails to address the issue of illegal handguns and only attacks legal sports shooters. 

·      not only nonsense but deliberately misleading 

·      emotionally-motivated … sloppy, illogical and poorly constructed … betrays an ignorance that is really quite remarkable. You should be ashamed of yourself!

            Although almost all the letters accused me of ignoring the issue of illegal, smuggled guns – I didn’t, in fact – many made the point that we/I don’t recognize the presence of law-abiding gun owners simply because they do abide by the laws. They have to have a trigger lock, carry their guns in locked containers, out of sight, file a plan if they do transport weapons, etc. They’re invisible.

            They own guns because they like guns – just as other people like sports cars, fly rods, or sewing machines. 

            The gun-owner with whom I had a phone conversation used the term “weight of responsibility” – knowing that they possess a potentially lethal weapon, knowing that how they use it and indeed how they themselves behave will be seen as representative of all gun-owners. Any episodes of domestic violence, drunk driving, or a barroom brawl, could lead to loss of their gun licence. 


Beyond those letters, there were some significant clarifications. 


One noted, “You included suicide firearms deaths with criminal homicide numbers, leaving the impression we have 600-plus gun murders a year in Canada. Suicide by gun is a problem, with homicide comprising only 12-15 % of all firearm deaths.” 


Another letter commented, “In Nova Scotia it is asked that the killer's name not be used in print or on the air.” Sorry. I was not aware of that recommendation. 


Only one person claimed the right to bear arms as protection against an oppressive government. 


Oh, yes, the city editor at the Kelowna newspaper that publishes my columns sent me a note: “We haven’t had this much response to an opinion piece in a long time. Good work!”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: dying, MAiD, assisted death



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