Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Euthanasia Deluxe

The happiest of exits

The best way to go

Our ageing population and voluntary euthanasia

Nearly fifty years ago when the abolition of the death penalty in Britain was under discussion, the New Scientist magazine published the personal preferences of several physicians for the most humane method of execution.

Today, with the debate on euthanasia gathering momentum it is an increasingly valid consideration. It may be an important factor in making a very important choice.

In their next issue the magazine published a letter to the editor I wrote suggesting that a secret and comfortable prison-cell-cum-decompression-chamber be built for maximum carefree departures.

Because I remembered the day, in 1945, when all the pilots of Fleet Air Arm 805 squadron entered a decompression chamber, four at a time, and put on oxygen and radio masks. Then the chamber was decompressed to match conditions at high altitude.

Following instructions from medical officers looking in at us through the portholes, we performed simple tasks one by one. As each person commenced his task the pilot sitting opposite him was told to lean over and disconnect his oxygen supply. The first fellow was told to keep slowly subtracting seven from 100. He started off saying “ninety three, eighty six, seventy nine, seventy two, sixty five”, pause, “fifty eight”, longer pause, “fifty...” much longer pause, “fif...”, then he fell unconscious. The medics at once told his opposite number to connect up his oxygen again. After a few seconds the fellow started saying “fifty,..” pause, “fifty... No!... fifty one, forty four, thirty seven...” Then the medic outside said that's “Okay number one, you can stop now.” "But," protested number one, "I haven't finished yet." "Yes you have," said the medic, "you passed out for a while and your test is over." "No. I did not pass out," protested number one. "Oh yes you did," chorused we other three pilots waiting our turn to perform a task.

And it was the same story for all of us. We didn't even know we had passed out, let alone feel anything untoward. It was a valuable lesson.

No need for expensive trips to Switzerland. All that is required are multi-seat, mobile decompression chambers that can easily be towed to varying locations for service on the spot.

When it came to my own turn in the chamber, I was the only one to be given a physical task to perform. I stood up at a dummy Lewis gun and was instructed to fire through the portholes at the medic outside when he waved his hand, firing at another doctor when he waved his hand, and change the magazine when nobody waved. They said no one had ever completed a magazine change and the chief medical officer had a prize for whoever did so. I managed to do so and almost completed another change of magazines. An endorsement that recommended me for high-altitude flying was entered in my log book. Ironically, considering the oxygenated nature of the test, I was presented with a large carton of tobacco as a prize.

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