by Philip Prins
Proponents claim that individual choice, or personal autonomy, should dictate as much as possible when and where a person dies. They say this is possible in the last stages of life, especially when a person is terminally ill. They argue that suffering leads to an undignified death, and that the patient should be able to end his or her own life at will. In addition, it is sometimes said that the assisted suicide/euthanasia option will help to prevent unnecessary prolonging of life.
The reality is that the there are many other motives and factors at play that would lead to the legalization of assisted suicide/euthanasia, including healthcare economics, care-giver burdens, and prejudice against people with disabilities, the chronically ill and the frail elderly.
In October 2004, a jury acquitted Evelyn Martens of aiding or abetting suicide in the deaths of Monique Charest and Leyanne Burchell.
• that there was not enough evidence to convict Evelyn Martens of aiding or abetting a suicide
• that vulnerable people are in danger now, let alone from liberalized assisted suicide laws. (Monique Charest was not ill in any physical manner).
• that there is a suicide underground that needs to be controlled, and that current legislation needs to be enforced.
Does NOT prove
• that assisted suicide is compassionate, or simple, or something that most people desire.
• that the Criminal Code is out-dated or "Draconian"
• that Canada needs to forge ahead on this front.
Sometimes various terms are used interchangeably, but it pays to know the exact terminology:
Assisted suicide is the deliberate killing of oneself with the aid of another (to assist is illegal).
Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is the deliberate killing of oneself by chemical means which have been prescribed for that purpose by a doctor.
Euthanasia is the allegedly merciful, intentional killing of another, by any means, but usually implies a doctor's lethal injection. It may be voluntary or involuntary on the part of the recipient.
Oregon is the only state in the US where such legislation has been passed. In fact, a trend to shy away from such legislation has been observed in other states. Many disability-rights activists have understood the danger they face from legalized assisted suicide/euthanasia. Their publicity efforts have had an effect on public opinion (Wesley J. Smith, National Review Online, Jan 19, 2004).
Oregon: This PAS state is often touted as providing an example of responsible legislation and regulation. Yet the facts contradict this assertion. Many Oregon doctors are unwilling to be listed as PAS-providers, and the system there allows for doctor shopping. In the case of Kate Cheney, for example, the first attending psychiatrist thought Cheney's daughter was more interested in her mother receiving euthanasia than Mrs. Cheney was herself. A second psychiatrist, however, approved the death, and the "suicide" took place (Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare: The Oregon Experience with Physician-Assisted-Suicide, June 1, 2004). Further, the public is not given access to euthanasia records, and all official reviews of individual cases, if done at all, are after-the-fact.
Holland: The Remmelink Reports of 1990 and 1995 confirmed a higher level of PAS/euthanasia than had been reported, as well as a significant increase in actual practice in the interim. In 1996, psychiatrist Chabot was acquitted of wrongdoing in the euthanasia death of a woman who experienced "overwhelming" grief four months after the death of her son. Five years later, the Dutch legalized euthanasia and PAS for anyone over 16, and for those aged 12-16 with parental consent (VAEH: International Experience with Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide, July 12, 2004).
In 2003 a group of Dutch doctors, along with a prosecutor, developed the "Groningen Protocol", an accord providing for the euthanasia of babies under certain conditions (Maclean's, September 5, 2005). This development shows that voluntary euthanasia is a steppingstone to involuntary euthanasia. The Dutch Government has now indicated that it will accept the Groningen Protocol with the inclusion of adults diagnosed with dementia (CP Press, August 29, 2005).
In addition, Dutch physicians have long been doing "eugenic euthanasia of disabled babies" even though this is illegal, as infants cannot give their consent. And approximately 21% of infant euthanasia deaths occurred without even the request or consent of the parents (Wesley J. Smith, Now They Want to Euthanize Children, Weekly Standard, September 13, 2004). There have been no trouble-free experiments in assisted suicide/euthanasia policy.
Conventional medications such as morphine and other narcotics are able to control up to 97% of pain. Research shows that Tectin (naturally derived from the puffer fish) acts as a "channel-blocker" and provides an even more effective, non-narcotic pain-control alternative. Tectin, undergoing clinical trials in Canada, appears to be effective at controlling nerve pain, and will hopefully be available for use in Canada in 2006.
Much of the pro-euthanasia argument is based on a commitment to the notion of personal autonomy. Yet people with disabilities, those suffering from chronic physical or mental pain, or otherwise vulnerable are more susceptible to the power of suggestion and therefore less autonomous. When it comes to assisted suicide, personal autonomy is not the issue. There is, however, a sense of helplessness and a need for care and support. Canadian policy should look to satisfying this need, especially for the vulnerable.
Society is also considering the implications of the ideology associated with the belief that certain lives are not worth living. The eugenic attitudes that are connected to the euthanasia ideology is part of a discrimination against people with disabilities, the frail elderly and other vulnerable people.
Euthanasia is not palliative care! The latter palliates terminal suffering with care; the former ends one person's suffering by taking their life. Caring, NOT killing, is the answer.