Do we really want to be No. 1 in medically assisted dying?

If no one acts, grounds for medically assisted dying will automatically expand in a few months to include mental illness. What I find irritating about this is that the expansion didn’t come from elected members in the House of Commons, but from the Senate, whither the bill went for some sober second thoughts. The Liberals then accepted the addition. .

So you have senators, generally well-off, socially entrenched, whose good intentions I choose not to doubt, deciding, along with constituencies like the Canadian Bar Association, that people with mental illness deserve the same “autonomy and self-determination” as those with run-of-the-mill physical illnesses.

But really, it’s much easier to focus on demanding your autonomy when you’re not worried about where you’re going to spend the night.

You may also be less prone to despair, from which you may swiftly or unexpectedly recover, provided you haven’t been put to sleep permanently in the meantime.

The trouble with well-meaning elites stooping to help the masses is that they almost inevitably see and define things like autonomy from their point of view and end up shaping legislation to reflect their needs and sensibilities. This also applies to schemes like a universal basic income (UBI), championed by lovable conservatives like the late Hugh Segal.

It simply may not occur to them how patronizing a UBI is, especially when it’s handed down to you, versus when you’ve fought for and won it on terms and at levels that you yourself define.

You can, indeed, find cases, mostly rare, that would justify MAID on mental health grounds but, as someone or other said, hard cases make bad law and there’ve always been other ways to deal with those, like some brave doctor providing pills, rather than opening the legal floodgates to abuse and regret. The law isn’t a way to solve everything, or give up on other routes. And it has always been most accessible and responsive to those best-off.

Among other stains, the addition would be a temptation for bureaucrats and politicians looking to balance their budgets. A swift death is less costly than providing psychiatric care, or just letting the indigent know where to find it. Dr. Sonu Gaind, former head of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and clearly a mensch, who supports MAID, says he’ll quit the program if this gets added.

Poignantly, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lets this occur, he’ll confirm Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s attenuated bleat that the elites and gatekeepers are running Canada, against the interests of most people. In this case, they’d be the pearly gateskeepers.

Adding Weight

“Oppenheimer” is a film that gets by, pretty much, on its title. Even if you’d never heard of the guy, you’d probably say, “This sounds serious.” It namechecks other Big Ideas of that era: red scare, atomic, science, Einstein, but never explains why any mattered.

I confess I watched it straight through, which is rare. But when it was done, I didn’t think about it again. It’s as if, once you announce an important theme, you’re relieved of examining it. It’s like a dream I had, about a literary party where every circle of authors or critics simply kept muttering, “Kafka, Kafka, Kafka, Kafka …”

“Maestro,” about Leonard Bernstein, is like a film-length proof of Sarah Polley’s claim, in her book, that men historically got a pass on anything if they’d been certified with artistic genius. I found some touching moments, mostly near the end with the cancer diagnosis and family reaction. But then you’re left wondering, why did it have to be about a famous artistic genius with a recognizable name? That may’ve made sense in Shakespeare’s time, when ordinary people were culturally marginal, but I thought this was another age.

Raymond Chandler said: “Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest.” Dull yet gripping, in these cases.

RICK SALUTIN
RICK SALUTIN
is a Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and critic and has been writing for more than forty years. Until October 1, 2010, he wrote a regular column in The Globe and Mail; on February 11, 2011, he began a weekly column in the Toronto Star. He currently teaches a half course on Canadian media and culture in University College (CDN221) at the University of Toronto. He is a contributing editor of This Magazine. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and got his Master of Arts degree in religion at Columbia University. He also studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He was once a trade union organizer in Toronto and participated in the Artistic Woodwork strike.[