Euthanasia advocates highly motivated in advance of court case
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
GATINEAU, Que. (CCN) — As the Supreme Court of Canada prepares to hear arguments Oct.15 on assisted suicide in the Carter Case, activists against euthanasia warn of the zeal of their opponents.
“These people are more committed than you are,” Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg told the Euthanasia Symposium 2014: Uniting to Stop Euthanasia here Oct. 4.
“All around the table, they were talking about how they had killed someone,” he told the symposium. He noted that in jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, there are always cases where the prescribed drugs don’t work to cause death as planned. So there was discussion on how to complete the act if the medication fails, he said.
His assistant, sitting at the same lunch table, told him later she had heard a nurse telling about how she had saved up her mother’s morphine so as to give her a lethal dose. When the morphine failed to kill her, the woman said she used a pillow to finish the job.
Schadenberg indicated this personal connection to assisted suicide and euthanasia may explain some of the motivation to make the practice legal.
He explained that euthanasia is the direct and intentional killing of another person, a form of homicide. The Supreme Court of Canada is being asked whether it should remain a form of homicide or a “form of medical treatment.” The EPC has intervener status in the Carter case.
The EPC’s British Columbia chair Dr. Will Johnston, a family doctor, warned the Canadian Medical Society’s (CMA) factum in Carter “has several phrases that seem to be written by euthanasia proponents.” The factum seems to indicate the CMA can “step back and go with the flow of what the Canadian people decide.”
Johnston expressed concern over the way the CMA handled its recent consultation on euthanasia. It echoed the way the CMA handled abortion in 1989 - 90, by portraying the medical profession as in favour of “choice,” when a poll done at the time showed two thirds of doctors were against abortion, he said. ”We are seeing the same pattern here.”
Most doctors are not interested in getting involved in the organizational hierarchy and committee meetings involved in active CMA work, Johnston said. The push from within the CMA comes from “a small number of ideologues who want to be on the leadership edge of public opinion.”
Our job is to warn the CMA it will be held accountable if the abuses that have happened in jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal happen here, Johnston said.
Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) Canada executive director Larry Worthen, whose wife and daughter are both physicians, said most doctors have little accurate information about euthanasia and assisted suicide. The data coming out of countries where the practices are legal is not informing the decision-making process, he said. The danger to public safety is the key argument against it.
The question doctors need to be asked in relation to euthanasia is similar to “Would you approve a drug if you didn’t know the side effects?” he said.
Worthen said a day is coming when patients will not care what individual doctors have to say about their conscientious rights. “I don’t care what you think. It’s a right. Sign the form,” he said.
Johnston said the public does not care about doctors’ conscience rights. “Conscience rights are not how we win this,” he said. “This is essentially an issue of public safety. We are not against this (merely) because we might have to do it.”
People who think getting more freedom or more control through legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide will find “the choices being created are going to be in other peoples’ hands, not theirs,” Johnston warned.
Disability activist Amy Hasbrouck, executive director of Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet, said she has heard people say to herself and to other disabled people, “I’d rather be dead than be like you.”
People are unaware of the high rates of abuse of members of disability communities, of the high rates of unemployment and the constant prejudice they face, she said.
Telling people who are unable to choose where they live because of their disability that they now have a choice to be euthanized or seek assisted suicide is offering them no choice, she said.
People newly experiencing disability such as a spinal cord injury experience great grief, she said. But so does the mother who has just lost her child. The difference is that no one suggests to that mother she kill herself to deal with her grief, she said. If people with disabilities are not going to be helped through their grief, but allowed to get stuck in it, “euthanasia seems like a good choice.”
Not only do 92 per cent of Canadians have negative views about people with disabilities, but also that applies to doctors as well,” said Hasbrouck, who is blind.
Quebec grassroots coalition Living with Dignity executive director Nic Steenhout told the conference they have tried fighting Quebec’s euthanasia act in the media, in rallying public opinion and in trying to persuade politicians. Bill 52 passed despite their efforts, though the act concerning so-called “medical aid in dying” has not yet come into effect.
The next step is a legal battle, he said. Living with Dignity is joining the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia to fight the law on grounds it is not constitutional. The Criminal Code, which governs homicide, is federal jurisdiction, he said.
While they are watching to see how the Supreme Court rules in Carter, Steenhout warned if Quebec proceeds with euthanasia, other provinces will follow.
Dr. Catherine Ferrier from the Physicians’ Alliance pointed out how much groundwork was done to prepare public opinion to support euthanasia “before the debate even erupted.”
“Euthanasia is not our role,” she said. “It is homicide.”
Nearly all palliative care doctors oppose euthanasia, she stressed. “The closer you are to dying patients, the more you are not interested in this debate.”
“Physicians have an obligation to protect their patients and the public,” she said.