Bishop's Blog

Quebec's Bill 52 and the Need for Plain Speech

In learning Latin, it is customary to strive for a working knowledge of basic Latin grammar, and then to read and translate classics such as Cicero's De Oratore.

"Just as some women are said to be handsomer when unadorned-this very lack of ornament becomes them-so the plain style gives pleasure when unembellished. ... All noticeable ornament, pearls as it were, will be excluded; not even curling irons will be used. All cosmetics, artificial white and red, will be rejected. Only elegance and neatness will remain. The language will be pure Latin, plain and clear; propriety will always be the chief aim."

Despite Cicero's own linguistic elegance, he encouraged speech or writing that was simple, direct, clear, brief, sincere and unambiguous. Cicero would not be pleased with our modern day over-use and misuse of euphemisms.

For reasons of politeness and civility, we sometimes use euphemism to substitute a word for another word that might offend e.g., "passed away" (died). We also might want to give a more positive view of a job, e.g., "sanitation engineer" (garbage man), or "beautician" (hair-dresser). Most of these kinds of change are not particularly problematic.

However, some are more serious in nature, e.g., "infected obstetrics" (botched abortion), "misstatement" (lie), "program misuse" (fraud), and "gaming" (gambling).

These usages of language are the opposite of "calling a spade a spade" or simply speaking the truth. They can cover up, mask, soften, smooth over important facts, and lessen responsibility. Euphemisms can be used deceptively and misleadingly to hide the truth. "Spin" is becoming a large part of modern day life and we can even hire "spin doctors" to aid us in massaging "the truth."

A classic illustration of such abuse can be seen in the Quebec government's proposed : "End-of-life care" is defined as "palliative care provided to persons at the end of their lives, including terminal palliative sedation, and medical aid in dying."

This definition changes what is meant by palliative care. The terms "terminal palliative sedation" and "medical aid in dying" are purposefully misleading. They are euphemisms for euthanasia. We need some plain speech.

Euthanasia is the intentional killing of someone, with or without his or her consent, either by act or omission. By killing the person, one seeks to eliminate all aspects of that person's life including pain, suffering or humiliation of being in need of help. The person who commits euthanasia must intend, for whatever reason, to kill the other and must cause their death.

Euthanasia is incompatible with the philosophy and goal of palliative care. Palliative care provides a dignified death by giving patients the pain management and the social, emotional and spiritual support they require to live a good death with courage. Good palliative care, through traditional spiritual care and newly developed programs and therapies, can help the dying find meaning in their pain and suffering, and enable them to deal with unfinished business in their lives.

The last days of a person's life are often times of spiritual journey and reconciliation with family, friends and God. Patients who enter a hospital or hospice expecting compassion as they live their last months, weeks or days should not have to worry about "mercy killing" based on a doctor's judgment of their quality of life. Care can never be killing.

Incorporating euthanasia into palliative care is an attempt to confuse the general public about the role of palliative care, which is to give optimum quality of life to the patient with a progressive incurable illness until natural death occurs.

The Bill creates a "right to receive palliative care." This sounds positive and it is a needed step in the right direction. However, if euthanasia is to be part of palliative care, it is anything but good.

Where does this so-called "right" come from? Is it inherent in a person? Or is it only constituted by judicial or legislative decision? What reason is to be given for such an assertion? Naming something a "right" is often the first stage in persuading society that it is time to legitimate certain behaviours, formerly viewed as unethical, and forbidden.

Furthermore, if euthanasia becomes legal, then the practice could become part of a doctor's duty.

The argument will be made that conscientious objection should take care of that, but there are increasing concerns in Alberta, and elsewhere about the protection afforded by that principle. At the same time, the doctor-patient trust relationship will be eroded, and relationships will take on a new form, unlikely to be more personal, more likely to be increasingly impersonal and technical.

A so-called "right to receive palliative care," which includes euthanasia, might soon become a "duty to die."

"Incurable serious illness," "an advanced state of irreversible decline in capacity," and "suffering from constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" are highlighted in the Bill but we need to eliminate the pain, not the patient. Uncontrollable pain is quite rare. True compassion is all about interconnectedness with other human beings, with presence, solidarity and love: to become a partner in suffering, helping the other find meaning until death occurs naturally.

The Criminal Code defines euthanasia as a criminal act. This prohibition protects us all, especially the most vulnerable (persons with disabilities, the elderly, the very sick, the dying); we cannot give some people the right to kill others. If death can be used to solve one problem, it can be used to solve many others.

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Pastoral Care Euthanasia Palliative Care Health Care Old Age Seniors Death and Dying

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Bishop Frederick Henry

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