I want to focus on one issue in this blog: freedom of choice. The ability to make personal choices and direct our own paths is one of the defining characteristics of human beings. It should also be an inalienable right, as long as our choices do not negatively impact others.
I’m particularly concerned about two quite different struggles in the world. One, far away in Africa, is a struggle for life as well as freedom. People living in extreme poverty have little sense of choice and few opportunities for self-determination: they struggle against enormous obstacles simply to survive. For many Westerners, the plight of African people seems unfortunate but distant. For Engineers Without Borders (EWB) members, it is immediate and compelling. Members of the organizations are mostly university students and recent graduates, idealistic and passionate about eliminating poverty in Africa. They go to African countries on short and long-term placements, integrate into society and do what they can to address the root causes of poverty. They attempt to bring about change and to help African people attain freedom of choice; they return changed themselves. I have a personal vested interest in this organization as my son Mike Klassen is about to go to Ghana on a two-year placement with EWB.
The other issue is less cheerful and closer to home. While in Africa people struggle to achieve the freedom from poverty, poor sanitation and limited education so they can choose how to live their lives, in Canada people are denied the freedom to choose how they will die. Many people endure immense suffering and indignity because Canadian law forbids assisted suicide, and by the time people truly want to leave this life, they are often incapable of ending their own lives. If they are still capable, the options available to them are limited and, frankly, inhumane. Dying With Dignity is an organization that lobbies to change the law and tries to support people choosing to end their lives. Euthanasia is a highly controversial topic and morally offensive to some, yet it is ultimately also a matter of freedom of choice.
I believe we all have a responsibility to help others, whether they’re far away or right next door, whether they are struggling to choose how to live or how to die. I hope to use this medium to explore these issues, through reflection and stories, and to promote meaningful discussion.