An 85-year-old British Columbia woman who was suffering from the early stages of dementia killed herself this week, but not before giving interviews to media and setting up a website promoting the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada.
Gillian Bennett, a grandmother, psychotherapist, and wife of retired philosophy professor Jonathan Bennett, took her own life while lying on a mat outside her home on Bowen Island, an upscale Vancouver suburb reachable only by boat, “with a draught of good whiskey, a dose of Nembutal mixed with water and her husband of 60 years by her side,” reports the Vancouver Sun in a sympathetic feature story.
Before she killed herself, Bennett had also created a website, deadatnoon.com, where she explained her reasons — dementia would soon turn her into a “vegetable” and a $50,000-a-year-drain on the taxpayers, prevent her from killing herself later, and she wanted to stay out of hospitals, which she said “are dirty places.”
She also praised her husband, and called for society to legalize assisted suicide and make everyone create living wills by the age of 50.
In a follow-up story The Sun told how readers had responded to Bennet’s suicide, describing it as “Smart. Beautiful. Strong. Brave,” and explained how her family’s responses were almost entirely “positive.” *
But opponents of assisted suicide expressed fears that Bennet’s high-profile suicide, and her push for legalization, show little consideration for the disabled or the damage legalized assisted suicide would cause.
“At a deep level, this would corrupt the medical system,” Dr. Will Johnston, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSiteNews.
Johnston said that Mrs. Bennett’s call for legalization demonstrates the importance the “small group of people pushing for assisted suicide” place on personal autonomy.
But that autonomy is an illusion, he said. “It is not true that either their lives or their deaths would have no impact on anyone else, or on society.” In particular, he said, legalization of assisted suicide would hurt seniors and those with disabilities and mental illness.
“But everyone in society would be impacted,” he said.
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Once assisted suicide became an option, Johnston said, “that option would always be on offer” for everyone who went to hospital with a serious illness, causing people who might not otherwise think of killing themselves to consider suicide.
He pointed to the cautionary case of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who admitted recently that he was so depressed after a series of operations last summer he began the process of arranging an assisted suicide in Switzerland, but pulled out as his condition improved.
Lloyd-Webber said it would have been “stupid and ridiculous” to follow through, in explaining his opposition to an assisted suicide bill before the British House of Lords.
British Columbia disabilities consultant Norman Kunc, who must use a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, explained that when people are first disabled, they go through “four or five months of shock, then they say, ‘Okay, what can I do with my life?’” But if the assisted suicide option were provided in that initial period, many might take it.
“There is a pervasive view in our society that life with a disability is very tragic,” Kunc told LifeSiteNews. As a result, health professionals and family members are sometimes inclined to decide for disabled people that death is preferable. “I’ve actually known people with disabilities who have woken up in hospital to find someone has put a ‘Do Not Resuscitate,’ sign on their bed. They ask it be taken down, but after they’ve had another sleep, it’s been put back up.”
Johnston agrees with Kunc’s warnings. Assisted suicide – and euthanasia – would poison relations between the public and the hospital system, he says, while corrupting medical professionals with the power to promote suicide as the convenient solution for them and those patients with troublesome conditions.
Legalizing assisted suicide would “validate the view that having a disability is a fate worse than death,” added Kunc—a view that already is being used secretly, he believes, to justify murder in the Canadian healthcare system.
“I don’t believe disabilities are terrible,” he added. “My disability has given me numerous gifts: it has catapulted me out of the competition with other men; I find meaning in engaging the day-to-day struggles of life, like doing errands in my wheelchair. I’ve learned how to ask for help without compromising my dignity.”
*The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention’s guidelines for the news media states: “Reports should not make the suicidal person appear admirable, nor should they seem to approve of the suicide,” nor “provide romanticised versions of the reasons for suicide,” nor run their pictures nor detail their method, lest copycats be encouraged; they should present alternatives to suicide and provide contact information for support services for those who are suicidal.