What's Wrong with Healthcare?

Thinking inside and outside of the healthcare box. After 41 years of family practice, what's happened to Canada's healthcare system?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

Well, that certainly was an experience! Over the week-end my wife and I traveled to Edmonton where we were joined by our daughter. We thought it may be interesting to attend a function at the city library called the “Philosopher’s Café”. Since the topic to be discussed was “assisted suicide” I thought it would be interesting to get lay input on this since I have been blogging on cost effectiveness in our health care system and since the next item I was to address was “sustainability”. About 70 people were in attendance and the “moderator’ was a professor of philosophy from the University of Alberta. In no time at all it became apparent as to which way things would go.
He spoke of the need for compassion. Since many severely ill people were incapable of ending their lives they required an “assistant”. Further, since suicide and attempted suicide were not a crime, why should assisting suicide be a crime? He stated that he had no fear of the “slippery slope” phenomenon because legislators simply had to draw a line. Belgium and the Netherlands were mentioned, and when I pointed out that recent reviews showed that in 50% of cases the “rigid lines drawn” were not adhered to, I was not asked for my opinion again over the next 90 minutes in spite of my obviously invisible hand being up several times. Participants speaking on the pro side of the assisted suicide question were often asked for further input.
The next position the “moderator” posed to the audience was “If there was a right to life, should there not be a right to death?” This was not specifically addressed and was left out there as a given. Perhaps this moderator has not seen many creatures, let alone people, die, but a can assure you that I have. There seems to be an incredibly strong drive in us to struggle to continue our lives under all circumstances. As long as we are even slightly conscious we will use our last bit of energy to draw our last breath. Perhaps compassionate societies in the past, having witnessed these Herculean efforts to sustain life, thought that a just society should proclaim that free people within that society should have the “right” to live. But what observations over the years would lead us to believe that we struggle daily to die and therefore the right to die should be enshrined in law?
As one might expect, the Marlene Houle case came up. As you may recall, her son, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, committed suicide with his mother’s (Marielle Houle) very active help and participation. The group and the moderator seemed to conclude that the mother was the best judge as to whether her son was rational in his decision---certainly more able to judge his state of mind than a physician or a psychiatrist. At the conclusion of the 90 minutes of “philosophical discussion”, 95% of the attendants felt assisted suicide should be legal. The prevailing sentiment was “I want what I want, when I want it.It is my right! I am entitled! My thought was: “be careful what you wish for lest your wish be granted”. What happened with the idea that we, as a compassionate society, must protect the weakest among us? (If you haven’t yet, read my “Euthanasia is Cost Effective”).
I believe the above case is a good example how the chronically ill may not get the support they need in our system. Every medical student is taught: “If you see a depressed child, look for a depressed parent”. Apparently Mrs.Houle had suffered from depression in the past and the newspapers report that since her son’s death she had become a recluse, seldom venturing out of her assisted living domicile. We and everyone at the philosopher’s café assumed that the son (Charles Fariala) no longer wished to live because of his multiple sclerosis. WHAT IF, as a caring son, watching his mother suffer, and feeling he was the cause, he chose to end his life. The pathology and failure was in a system that did not intervene adequately in a very dangerous situation. The system was not there for the mother, who with her depression could not cope with her son’s deteriorating condition, let alone support him psychologically. The system also failed to protect the son from feeling responsible for his mother’s depression. It is no secret that mental health in Canada is seriously under funded. As long as we want to do everything for everybody, those that really need our help, the frail elderly, the chronically ill, and the poor will be under funded. The last things we need are laws that lubricate the slippery slope of rapid death for those in our society that are most vulnerable.
But a reporter at Saturday’s Philosopher’s Café may report that 95% of those at attendance favor assisted suicide. There will be no mention that the “moderator” was less than impartial in leading the discussion. And our legislators will see an opportunity for more cost effectiveness in our health care system. Again: “Be careful what you wish for, lest your wish be granted.


Blogger michie said...

Hey Dad... Have you caught up on your sleep yet??? There's another Philosopher's Cafe tomorrow, if you're interested;)
love mich

3/2/06 6:09 PM  

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