Euthanasia debate heating up in Canada

With Bill C-384 set for debate in parliament in September, public debate on the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide has been heating up during the past few weeks. I’ve been meaning to weigh in with a post, but it’s been hard to keep up, so here’s a round up of some good coverage.

Andrea Mrozek at ProWomanProlife highlights a letter to the editor published in the Ottawa Citizen, written by Jakki Jeffs of Alliance for Life Ontario:

Any doctor worth their salt knows that you do not have to kill someone at the end of life. They know that there is a chasm of difference between the possible secondary effect of pain management, which rarely, but may, hasten death and the actual purposeful intent to kill a patient. We will have the debate, I am sure. It will be headlined with the fearmongering which has kept step with euthanasia’s progress across the globe. We have regressed to the point where we want to judge some lives not worthy of life and, in that judgment, sanction their execution. We will not call it that, of course, in order not to distress societal sensitivities.

Brigitte Pellerin at ProWomanProLife highlights a column by Barbara Kay in the National Post:

We have up until recently assumed that we cannot control life’s end. When that was the case — just as when we used to think we could not control life’s beginning — caretaking for those at the heart of the drama was accepted as everyone’s responsibility. But now we would view late-life sufferers, as we used to consider unwed mothers, as having gotten themselves “in trouble” and in need of a termination to that trouble. Of course, as with abortion, the pregnant woman, or the sufferer pregnant, so to speak, with pain, can choose not to terminate. But then, if that’s your choice, the result of the choice (the baby, the suffering) is also your problem, isn’t it? Because in the case of the sufferer, if you haven’t made a deliberate decision to die, then continuing to live is not a given, something you needn’t concern yourself with; rather, continuing to live then also becomes a deliberate decision, one for which you, not your family and society, are responsible.
[…]
Instead of empowering women, abortion has placed many women in a cleft stick. As Stith notes: “One investigator, Vincent M. Rue, reported in the Medical Science Monitor, that 64% of American women who abort feel pressed to do so by others. Another, Frederica Mathewes-Green in her book Real Choices, discovered that American women almost always abort to satisfy the desires of people who do not want to care for their children.” If you substitute the words “euthanize” for “abort” and “elderly” or “chronically ill” for “children,” the analogy with end-of-life termination could not be more clear.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition highlights an article by Hugh Anderson in the Vancouver Sun:

Wrapped in euphemisms and double-talk, another long step toward making it legal in Canada for doctors to deliberately end the life of patients in certain circumstances has been taken.
[…]
Startlingly also, among those eligible to be legally killed by a doctor might be depressed 18-year-old teenagers who refuse their medications. A doctor would also no longer commit a crime by supplying a lethal dose to enable such depressed teenagers to kill themselves.
[…]
It’s all a long way from what many people think of as a suitable case for euthanasia: an elderly person who is terminally ill and in excruciating pain who repeatedly and unmistakably asks for death. There is probably the support of most Canadians for exempting your doctor from a murder charge in that strictly limited case.

This kind of obfuscation is a striking characteristic of campaigners for the so-called “right to die with dignity,” which in reality means making it legal for somebody else to kill you or to help you commit suicide.

And on the topic of the slippery slope dangers:

Consider the Netherlands, where so-called mercy killing has been formally legal since 2002 and factually legal for three decades. Several government reports have acknowledged that many people have been legally euthanized without their knowledge or consent.

In Oregon, state officials have conceded that they really don’t know how many people have been prescribed a lethal dose of drugs to kill themselves, only those that have been reported by doctors.

Anderson does a good job of dissecting the specifics of the bill as well, so do read the whole thing.

Alex Schadenberg also dismantles a problematic article about Quebec physicians proposing legal euthanasia, arguing that this is about protecting doctors, not helping patients, and that the effect would be “erasing the distinction between caring for people and killing people.”

It’s important to stay on top of this issue as we head into the fall. We’ll be doing our best to keep you updated.

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3 Comments on “Euthanasia debate heating up in Canada

  1. For assisted suicide but against voluntary euthanasia !

    About the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must distinguish between the legal, ethical and religious arguments. One cannot just say without qualification that there is no difference between the two : in one case it is the patient himself who take his own life (assisted suicide), whereas in euthanasia it is the physician. One must first specify on what grounds (legal, ethical or religious) he draws is arguments. In the field of ethics, one can reasonably argue that there is no difference between the two. However, in the legal field, there is a difference between euthanasia (so-called first-degree murder with a minimum sentence of life imprisonment) and assisted suicide (which is not a murder or homicide and which the maximum sentence is 14 years of imprisonment). In the case of assisted suicide, the cause of death is the patient’s suicide and assisted suicide is somehow a form of complicity (infraction of complicity). But since the attempted suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972, this complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

    « In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, “is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone”: Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

    In contrast, voluntary euthanasia is considered a first-degree murder. The doctor kills the patient (at his request) by compassion to relieve his pain and suffering. There’s a violation of one of the most fundamental ethical and legal principles : the prohibition to kill a human being. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can remove a person’s life. The end of the social contract is “the preservation of the contractors” and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We’ve abolished the death penalty in 1976 in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! Even if voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the patient) may, under certain circumstances, be justified ethically, we cannot ipso facto concluded that euthanasia should be legalized or decriminalized. The legalization or decriminalization of such an act requires that we take into account the social consequences of the legalization or decriminalization. The undeniable potential of abuse (especially for the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will) and the risk of erosion of the social ethos by the recognition of this practice are factors that must be taken into account. The risk of slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent patient) to non-voluntary euthanasia (without the consent of the incompetent patient) or involuntary (without regard to or against the consent of the competent patient) are real as confirmed by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which states :

    “There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used as well to eliminate those who are a burden to others or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject’s consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act ».

    Eric Folot

    • You know more about this subject than I do, but a few points for consideration:

      • Was attempted suicide decriminalized because we came to believe that suicide is okay? Or because we came to view it as a symptom of someone in desperate need of help, rather than punishment?
      • The key question seems to be whether suicide being illegal is a societal endorsement of it. I don’t believe it is. We don’t go around saying, “yeah, you have the right and the freedom to kill yourself.” Rather, we consider people who are tending towards suicide as being in desperate need of our compassion and assistance, to remove or help them bear whatever burdens might be causing them to consider killing themselves
      • If suicide is not endorsed, viewed more as a symptom of depression that as a person’ right, then assisted suicide is abhorrent. Rather than providing the struggling and suffering person with support to overcome what’s causing their troubled state of mind, assisted suicide just helps the person to off themselves. Assisted suicide is incredibly different from suicide, if we’re talking about suicide as a sad consequence of a troubled mind. Assisted suicide would be offering the patient more troubles, rather than a cure.

      I think you’re argument rests on the similarity between assisted suicide and suicide, but I don’t agree with that premise.

      Further, the consequentialist considerations that you apply to voluntary euthanasia are equally applicable to assisted suicide. For example, the risk of slippery slope from assisted suicide (at the request of the competent but capable patient) to voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent but incapable patient) is very real. What if the patient is unable to commit suicide with assistance? Should they be denied that ability, if assisted suicide is legal or encourage? You can easily enter into the realm of voluntary euthanasia, which you don’t think should be allowed because of its social consequences. I’m not sure how you apply a slippery slope argument without acknowledging the connection between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia as well.

      Plus, euthanasia has the potential for abuse of the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will, but also for the weak and vulnerable who are pressured into a decision they might not otherwise make. People who are depressed, or feel like a burden to their family are more likely to express a desire to end their lives, while something as simply as a visit from a family member, or a positive development in their health can chance their opinion. Assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia are equally equipped to suggest death to patients who feel as though they are a burden to their families or their societies, or to patients who really need love and support or better medical care, rather than to be killed or assistance in killing themselves.

      Euthanasia and assisted suicide are different acts, yes, but there are many reasons why they should be addressed in a similar manner.

  2. Response to Blaise Alleyne : (sorry if I make a few mistakes but english is not my mothertongue)

    Your question : « Was attempted suicide decriminalized because we came to believe that suicide is okay? Or because we came to view it as a symptom of someone in desperate need of help, rather than punishment? ».

    My answer : In R v. Malmo-Levine (2003), The Supreme Court of Canada states : « The offence of attempted suicide was removed from the Criminal Code because Parliament came to prefer other ways of addressing the problem of suicide ». So your right on the fact that society didn’t decriminalize attempted suicide because we came to believe that suicide is alright. Suicide is still perceived, and for good reasons I believe, as a real issue. But the FACT is, that because of the decriminalization of attempted suicide, suicide is now a liberty. So everyone as the liberty to take is own life. It is not to say that people have a « right » to suicide. But they have the « liberty » to do so. It is not to say that society endorse suicide but one can do so without being punished. Since attempted suicide is decriminalized, it is very hard to justify on legal grounds the criminalization of abetting suicide. This complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

    « In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, “is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone”: Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

    We could talk about the ethics of suicide (and/or abetting suicide) but this is a separate issue. In a pluralist society, the State must be neutral and « cannot promote any particular moral objective or end, but must leave individuals to choose their own values. The state has no role to play in making men and women moral, no role in “perfecting” persons » (Neil M. Gorsuch). For my part, I believe that suicide can, in certain circumstances (such as people suffering unbearable pain in end of life), be morally justified (rationals suicides exist in end of life). I also believe that assisted suicide (abetting suicide) can be morally justified in certain circumstances. My argumentation stands on consequentialist and deontologist grounds. We can come back later on this subject if you want.

    About the slippery slope argument, I don’t see the risk of slippery slope from assisted suicide to euthanasia !!! And the reason why I don’t see this risk is because these acts are fundamentaly different. In euthanasia, someone (usually a doctor) kill someone else (the patient who ask for it) whereas in assisted suicide it is the patient who kill himself. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can kill someone else and remove a person’s life. The end of the social contract is “the preservation of the contractors” and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We’ve abolished the death penalty in 1976 in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! So even the State canno t take the life of one of is citizen. If we keep intact the prohibition against killing (with very few exceptions like self defence) I don’t see how we could end up with a slippery slope from assisted suicide to euthanasia !

    Best regard

    Eric Folot

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