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Euthanasia, Old Growth Forest & Joni Mitchell

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of attending a seminar on euthanasia. I was particularly struck by the words of two women, neither keynote speakers at the event, who shared public comment on their personal experience.

First, a doctor from British Columbia noted how the Hippocratic Oath had established a foundation for medical practice that has created centuries of trust for physicians. She described this as being like an old growth forest of trust. The proposition that physicians would abandon the commitments to "never do harm to anyone" and "not give a lethal drug to anyone if asked" would be like asking that a portion of the old growth be clear cut for the perceived benefit of one individual at a time. Of course, the experience in British Columbia - and generally - has been that the clear cutting of old growth forest results in the forest never returning, regardless of the effort made to restore it. For her, the resulting loss of patient/doctor trust that would occur as the result of legalizing doctor facilitated death (whether euthanasia or assisted suicide) would impact her ability to practice medicine even though she would not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The second woman spoke of having a healthy relationship with her family physician over an extended period of time. Her doctor signed a proposal requesting the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia was legalized in her home state. On her next visit to her doctor, the woman felt a strange sense of discomfort as the question nibbled at the edges of her mind as to whether she could still trust this person to be concerned about her life, rather than her death.

The private members' bill (C-384) currently before the House of Commons and the debate that is taking place in the traditional and new media are not just referencing a concept, they are about the values of a society and the impact on individuals. I'm old enough to remember Joni Mitchell's song 'Big Yellow Taxi' with it's line "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Old growth forest and euthanasia. We have centuries of something valuable to a culture, society, nation and individuals. We need to recognize what we've got ... and not let it go.


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