Psychology is the science of human and animal behaviour, motivation, problem-solving, thinking and feeling. Abnormal psychology attempts to catalogue and study maladaptive variations of thinking, feeling and behaviour that can interfere with everyday human and animal functioning.
The subject of doctor-administered death, MAID or euthanasia brings up lots of strong feelings, anxieties, hopes and fears in everyone who engages with the subject.
Disability itself also brings up a long list of feelings, emotional reactions and strongly-held views, not only amongst disabled people, but even more so amongst non-disabled people. I watched a well-known TV interviewer physically shudder and turn away when a disabled interviewee casually mentioned “leaky bodies”, in a debate between another well-known Canadian personality and the disabled person on the topic of assisted suicide, almost three decades ago. That TV interviewer is far from alone. Fear, dread and distaste, or even disgust, are common and visceral reactions that are below the level of conscious control. In the past, there were actually laws passed to make it illegal for an “ugly” person to appear on the street where they might be seen by others.
Many non-disabled people believe that if they themselves were to become disabled in significant and visible ways, they would prefer to be dead. Therefore, not surprisingly, they find it difficult to imagine that people with disabilities don’t want the same thing. But studies have shown that disabled people pretty consistently rate their quality of life considerably higher than others, including medical professionals, would rate them. Now the C-7 expansion has codified that psychological bias.
One interesting study has been conducted in Oregon, comparing “Attachment styles” in populations of patients with terminal conditions who chose Physician Assisted Death (PAD, as it’s called there), with patients with similar terminal diagnoses who did not request or choose PAD. The study was rooted in the work of John Bowlby, who studied attachment patterns in babies and small children. “Securely attached” children are those who had their basic human needs met reliably in their formative months, thus having a “secure base from which to explore their world”. Not all babies are lucky enough to have their basic needs met in an ample, kind, consistent and predictable way, and those experiences and patterns result in anxious, or avoidant, or even disorganized patterns of relationship formation when these babies become adults.
The Oregon study found a measurable difference in the two groups of patients — the ones who did or did not request and/or receive PAD. The notable difference revealed an avoidant/dismissive pattern of relating in the PAD group — or rather not relating, not wishing to be dependent on anyone, or to be depended upon by anyone, having total control over one’s life and total freedom regardless of how their decisions might affect others. Choosing when and how to die is consistent with this attachment pattern.
There is, we believe, important work to be done in many other aspects and measures of human psychology, function and dysfunction, in the context of a permissive system of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAD), Physician Administered Death (PAD), or MAID as it has been labelled in the Canadian system. It seems to us to be important to know if we are, or are not, resolving the adult sequelae of childhood trauma with facilitated death, rather than with healing.