SASKATOON — The harms and dangers of euthanasia and assisted suicide were explored March 16 at St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon.
The event organized by St. Philip parish nurses began with the screening of The Euthanasia Deception, an hourlong documentary produced by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, examining how euthanasia has gone wrong in Belgium, and how legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide threatens vulnerable people.
Those in attendance then spent time in small group discussion about issues raised in the film.
Through interviews with physicians, health care providers, legal experts, family members and disability advocates, the film examines three misconceptions around physician-assisted dying: that euthanasia and assisted suicide are compassionate, that euthanasia and assisted suicide affect only the individual, and that government safeguards will protect the vulnerable.
Stories and examples throughout the film brought home how euthanasia offers a false compassion. “She and all the others deserve more,” said one man whose mother chose to die by euthanasia, leaving behind a divided family wrestling with the pain of her decision. There are other ways to relieve pain, and to address the other fears that so often prompt a request for assisted death, said several of those interviewed for the film.
Dr. Benoit Beuselinck described having a 72-year-old patient ask for euthanasia. After talking with her, he learned that what she really wanted was to discontinue the burden of treatment. As a result, the treatment was stopped. He added that the woman also didn’t want to be a burden on others — and how, upon hearing this, the woman’s daughter begged to be allowed to care for her mother. “So the request for euthanasia was solved.”
The film pointed out that palliative care helps people to live their death, without hastening or prolonging the process. “We don’t help people to die by killing them,” asserted one palliative care advocate.
The threat to those living with disabilities was evident in the story shared by a Belgian father of a disabled child, approached by strangers and asked why he didn’t euthanize her.
Amy Hasbrouck, who lives with blindness, said every disabled person hears at one time or another, “I’d rather be dead than be like you.” She stressed that anyone can join the ranks of the vulnerable disabled at any time.
Mark Pickup, diagnosed in the prime of life with multiple sclerosis, said that “quality of life is a moving target.” His future brought joys and fulfillment that he could not perceive in the grief and suffering he felt at the time of his diagnosis, he stressed.
Pickup also pointed to the discrimination that those with disabilities face with the legalization of assisted suicide. “Which citizens get suicide prevention and which get assisted suicide? I can tell you who it is: people like me get assisted suicide; my healthy neighbour gets suicide prevention. Where is the equality in that?”
Contrary to the message in the media and among euthanasia advocates, physician-assisted death affects more than the individual who requests it. Far from being an autonomous decision, euthanasia affects family members, care-givers, physicians and others, the film revealed in story after story.
Finally, evidence was presented showing that safeguards do not work, and, once legalized, the eligibility for euthanasia and assisted suicide continues to expand. In Belgium physicians self-report, and studies have shown that people are being euthanized without their consent. People with psychological suffering or depression are among those now being euthanized. Over the years, doctor-assisted death has become a norm of medical treatment in Belgium, and patients can feel a pressure to “not be a burden” and a “duty to die.”
“Don’t be made to think it’s the right thing,” said one of those interviewed as the film explored the dogma that underlies the push for euthanasia and assisted suicide. “If they could brainwash the public to believe that it is a loving and compassionate act to kill, they win the debate.”
Economic factors also come into play, with a push for euthanasia because it is deemed to be cheaper than care.
“I truly think that euthanasia has nothing to do with medicine,” said Tom Mortier, another of those interviewed in the film. Pickup also stressed the need to improve end-of-life care, pain management and truly compassionate care — care that accompanies those who are suffering, without offering to kill them.
Powerful statements concluded the film, including: “Do I love you enough to care for you?”
In the discussion that followed, participants shared perspectives on the documentary and on the situation in Canada, as well as discussing options for showing true compassion, including fundraising for a planned residential hospice in Saskatoon, operated through St. Paul’s Hospital. (St. Paul’s manages palliative care across the Saskatoon Health Region, and is home to a 12-bed palliative care unit — donations to SPH Palliative Care and Hospice Services through SPH Foundation support accessibility to palliative care for those who need it.)