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'To the gallows foot and after'

‘To the gallows foot and after’

- Rudyard Kipling, The Thousandth Man

Canadian politics never used to hit the headlines as much as it has in recent years. Towards the end of 2022 Canadian clothing company Simons released an advert that caused uproar among many commentators and reignited the controversy of the Canadian ‘Medical Assistance in Dying' (MAID) programme that was brought into law in March 2021. The advert titled ‘All is Beauty’ shows a young lady, Jennyfer Hatch, narrating over scenes of her childhood interwoven with shots of a beautifully scenic beach. In the narration she talks about surrounding herself with beauty, how last breaths are sacred, and imagining her final moments. There’s a scene in the advert where Jennyfer and her friends are chanting around a fire and dancing that has a very bohemian aesthetic, engaging in what is essentially a pagan death ritual. Jennyfer’s most macabre line possibly being when in a CTV interview she says ‘if I'm not able to access health care, then I am able to access death care.’ The MAID programme has directly caused an unprecedented rise in the Canadian death rate. 2021 saw a 32% year on year rise in deaths by assisted suicide, and staggeringly 3.3% of all deaths in Canada came by way of euthanasia.

It is clear from the data that this procedure is not just a fringe activity for those who have terminal illness or something equivalent. In Canada the scope of who qualifies for the MAID programme is an ever expanding one. This is a natural outcome of a policy like this. If you can justify government sanctioned suicide for one, eventually, if you try hard enough, you can justify it for all. People who are disabled can be euthanized. And while politicians and proponents of this legislation would never voice this, they are essentially saying, ‘disabled people are undesirable, they are a burden upon society, and we must rid our nation of them.’ How evil, and how wrong.

The political elite will in Britain, as they did in Canada, market this legal reform as a compassionate measure. They will say people in severe pain or those with terminal diagnoses should have the freedom to take their own life. Instead, I say that we, as a society, have the duty to care for these people until the time comes when this is no longer needed. It’s not that our elites want to do evil, it's that they do not understand evil is what they do. Thereby they can cite ‘compassion’ as they take a depressed twenty-four-year-old to the clinic, after all it’s just a medical procedure isn’t it, the same as going to the dentist.

For a long time, Canada has been at the forefront of the liberalisation of the legal system. This new MAID policy is just the next example of the Canadian Long March towards utopia. Unfortunately, what happens in the Anglosphere, like the prodigal son, returns home to Britain. Government sanctioned suicide, or what it's been euphemistically called in recent times ‘Medically assisted dying’ a term that would’ve made Ingsoc blush. There seems to be little to stop the advancement of government sanctioned suicide in Canada, yet I want to outline here why these legal reforms must never be allowed to wash up on the shores of Britain.

Already in Britain suicide is legal, and has been since the 1961 Suicide Act yet as section two stipulates the assistance and or facilitation of death renders the perpetrator criminally liable. It is section two that must be upheld. Government sanctioned suicide, or whatever euphemism is in vogue today, is the sanitisation of death. To sanitise death in this way is to devalue life. In Canada the MAID programme is lorded as a marker of personal freedom and a blessing of liberty. In the British context, the same will undoubtedly be argued, but here this legal reform would elevate the state beyond its moral remit. Essentially appointing it the architect of death.

French essayist, author and polemicist Michel Houellebecq once wrote “when a country, a society, a civilisation, gets to the point of legalising euthanasia, it loses in my eyes all right to respect.” Houellebecq is indeed correct. How can politicians on either side of the house morally posture to Putin, or Xi, or the Saudi family as they often do, while in the same breath sanction the killing of the most vulnerable members of society? The particularly pernicious and outright unconscionable aspect about pursuing this policy platform in Britain, is that by the nature of the National Health Service the state is not only a permissive entity but an active entity in the killing of its own citizens.

I had the privilege recently of attending an event put on by a community group in Belfast that engage with a variety of people with different learning difficulties and other disabilities. The members of the group all spoke to a room full of people, about fifty to sixty or so. They spoke about their experience during Covid, how they helped their community in a plethora of ways during this time, what this experience meant for them and what it taught them. And yes, their answers weren't to a thesis level, and yes at points one had to strain to follow, and yes, a lot of the members of the group couldn’t live independently. But so what? Their contributions were genuine, their contributions were human, and most of all, their contributions were valuable.

Yet in Canada there would be calls for these people to be frogmarched down to the local surgery, because it's not ‘compassionate’ to let them live. Justification on physical grounds quickly becomes justification on mental grounds, which in turn quickly becomes justification on sentimental grounds. Suffering is not justification.

Who seriously suggests that the remedy to a thirty something depressed individual is government sanctioned suicide? If this person was standing on a bridge threatening to jump, no one would tell them to jump. They would be telling them that they had so much to live for, people relying on them etc. But in Canada as could be in Britain if you go to a doctor's office, the doctor can tell you to jump and that’s just fine.

In the poem of life suffering can be a line, suffering can even be a stanza, or two. But like all great poems life shares one primary faculty. Life is beautiful. Countries in the Western world are increasingly willing to go to the gallows foot, but are they sure they know what comes after?


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