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Health care workers discuss conscience rights

By Josh Tng
The B.C. Catholic


VANCOUVER (CCN) — In the wake of legalized assisted suicide in Canada and patients appealing to their doctors for death, many medical professionals say euthanasia is not the solution.

Despite the push by many to make euthanasia “a normal medical procedure . . . it’s not what we went into medicine for,” said Dr. Jim Lane, president of the Catholic Physicians Guild of Vancouver.

“The majority of doctors and health care providers have reservations, and we certainly have a lot of objections to this procedure being done.”

Lane organized a March 29 workshop at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre to teach medical professionals opposing euthanasia how to respond to requests for assisted suicide. About 100 like-minded attendees of different beliefs, religions, and backgrounds heard a panel that included Dr. Margaret Cottle and Dr. Edward Dubland, both medical doctors with expertise in palliative care.

While the conscience rights of medical professionals in B.C. are currently protected, Lane noted Ontario requires doctors unwilling to euthanize their patients to effectively refer them to those who will. “That is denying them their constitutional rights and freedom of belief, and infringing on their freedom of religion and conscience,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the health care field in general is moving towards embracing . . . killing,” said Stephanie Gray, an internationally known pro-life activist and event facilitator. “We need to equip those already in the field who are people of goodwill to know how to respond, how to reach to their colleagues who think it’s OK to kill that it’s not.”

A medical professional needs to be someone a suffering patient can rely on “to uphold that patient’s dignity and sanctity,” Gray said. “This will happen if they’re equipped to know what their rights are and what to do in these situations.”

Dubland suggested the best way to respond to a patient wanting assisted death was through a patient and empathetic conversation. When asked to provide assisted death, medical professionals “have to take a deep breath and be willing to take the time to speak with the patient. If you don’t understand who they are and what their story is, you’re not going to understand why they want assisted suicide.”

Cottle agreed, noting medical professionals often “make quick judgments” when diagnosing and dealing with patients. “We have to! We don’t get to know everybody and their grandchildren before we have to make a decision, but this doesn’t always work in our favour.”

When speaking with a patient requesting assisted death, Cottle said the most information comes from asking them about “the worst part” of their experiences.

“It’s surprising sometimes what people will say to you. Just asking the person lets you understand so much about who they are.”

Patients sometimes think euthanasia is the best solution to their pain and suffering, said Lane. “But what are they really asking us? Are they asking us to really kill them, or are they asking for more help?” The real answer is often to “ask more questions.”

“When you actually get into the issue, the majority of people would not choose euthanasia,” said Lane.

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