What will be the new face of euthanasia look like?

Hey guys, first of all Happy Holidays from your friends here at UTSFL. Now onto the main topic: a few weeks ago the always brilliant Margaret Summerville made a speech here at U of T on the subject of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, a topic which is of great relevance to us today because, at this moment as many of you know, the Supreme Court is reviewing a motion from British Columbia about whether to revisit legalizing euthanasia, on a flimsy legal technicality that would overrule an earlier 1993 case which held that Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia were constitutionally illegal. Dr. Summerville also mentioned similar cases going on right now in Belgium where they, after legalizing euthanasia a number of years ago, are at this moment in discussion about whether to allow euthanasia in cases of minors below the age of 18, an extremely troubling concept I will get to later on.

However, as I was doing my research for this topic, I found that euthanasia was not a debate that was limited to Canada and Belgium. A brief Google search revealed a powerfully worded article from New Zealand condemning euthanasia on demand (citing, who else, Margaret Summerville) in regards to a euthanasia on demand bill proposed by an MP; a report from the French government’s president Francois Hollande recommending that French law continue to prohibit legal euthanasia, and a newsbyte from  Ireland indicating a grassroots movements to challenge those countries’ laws on the subject, and that was without even scrolling to the bottom of the page! It seems that all over the world people and governments are grappling with the issue of whether or not doctors, or anyone else for that matter, have the right to kill other people, and whether or not that decision should be effected by whether they wanted to die or not.

It seems ironic therefore that with all the worldwide debate on this issue that I found the best articulation of my feelings on the issue right here at home in the pages of the Globe and Mail from an article written 2 months ago (I know I am seriously behind on blogging but bear with me). Okay it wasn’t the Globe and Mail itself, but rather the Globe’s recitation of the argument made by the government in regards to the British Colombia case. In it, the government argues the case for the slippery slope that could lead people to taking their own lives in a moment of weakness. We often hear the slippery slope argument maligned in our society, and indeed it is often used irresponsibly, but in this situation, in my mind at least, it rings true.

After all, we all remember those people who said (and still do say) that abortion would, once legalized, be used in the vast majority of cases for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest or those pregnancies that risked the mother’s life, despite the fact that these cases represent the tiniest fraction of the actual uses of abortion. These cases appeal to the sense of compassion that we have, and indeed should have, when we are confronted with cases of people in awful situations that they didn’t ask for, trying to do the best they can. We as pro-lifers know the arguments, we know that the life that is about to be taken is valuable, that an innocent child should not held accountable for the crimes of its father, and that abortion will not undo the incredible trauma the women experiences, but will only make another victim. But for all of this, we should have a hard time being strong in our convictions for that person, just as we should have a hard time holding the hand of a person with advanced ALS and telling them that their life is valuable, that their worth comes, not from what they can do or how much pain they are in, but from who they are, even when the pain in their lives makes that life seem like they are not worth living. These situations don’t mean we are wrong, it means we are human.

However the question to me that this watershed moment of euthanasia debate worldwide evokes is, what next? What will be the consequences of this debate; where are we headed in terms of euthanasia? If indeed we do legalize euthanasia, in twenty years will the average patient asking their doctor to kill them look like a terminally ill patient in great pain with only hours left of life, or will they look like someone else? One of the article I looked at mentioned the possibility of “euthanasia counselling” in Belgium for those over the age of 80, where the government sends people to talk about whether euthanasia is right for them given their advanced age. Will the new face of euthanasia look like a terminally ill person, or an octogenarian convinced that their life has no value by people who don’t want to pay for their medical bills. Such pressure might seem absurd now, but the idea of one person legally killing another person seemed absurd not too long ago.

And then there are of course people with disabilities, particularly those with mental health issues who would, in my mind be particularly vulnerable. One of the key definitions of a person with mental health problems who needs society’s immediate help is intent to harm themselves or others, but what do we do to help these people if harming oneself becomes such a fundamental right that others must help you in your self destruction? Will the new face of euthanasia be a person in chronic unendurable pain or a person with a disease of the mind, a person with clinical depression who, in a moment of weakness brought about by a chemical imbalance, decides to ask a doctor, a person whom society sees as a trusted lifesaving professional, to take their life, but who, with the right medication, could live a normal life like the rest of us. This might seem like something that society would never allow, but are we are really so confident in our justice system and the will of our governments to take on controversial topics, that we can be certain that they will make a legal code so airtight as to remove all the loopholes? Or will the government, as they have done so often before with problems that were made without their consent, ignore the problem and hope it goes away?

And finally there are children: not only is there the disgusting examples of the Gottingen protocol in the Netherlands which allows a grace period to kill disabled children after they are born (believe me I couldn’t make this stuff up) but there is the example I cited earlier on in this post, about extending euthanasia to minors, which to me is a colossal problem in its own right. As of course you all know, children and particularly teenagers have a reputation of seeing the world through the lenses of, shall we say, the melodramatic. I certainly did, and I’m betting that if you look back at your own experiences you will find an instance or two of drama in your teenage years as well. Everything seems like it matters so much more when you are in high school, getting a date can make you feel like you are king of the world, but a bad grade, a stinging comment, a failed relationship, all of these things can make you feel like the world has just come to an cataclysmic end. Now imagine that there was someone there at your lowest moment of in life, someone telling you that there was a way to end it all, that death wasn’t a big deal and that the romance of dying young would teach everyone who had laughed at you how wrong they were. Now imagine that person was a doctor, someone whose job and status made you trust them implicitly, a person for whom your life long attendance at his appointments and your disclosure to him or your most personal medical secrets made you feel that you had a deep personal connection with them. Quick what would you do?

Because that’s the dirty little secret about the face of euthanasia if it was made legal on demand, it’s all of us. All of us have moments in our lives when we are low, not just those with incurable excruciating physical diseases. And that’s why we don’t as a society have doctors who make their money from providing the service of murder, convincing those among us who feel low that they have nowhere to go but down. We are at an unprecedented watershed, my friends, a point where we decide internationally the value of human life and whether those who help save it should also have the power to end it. The choice, like all choices in a democratic society inevitably falls to you.

Anyway this is my opinion about the issue, but I’m infinitely more interested in yours. What do you think the new face of euthanasia will look like? Will it be confined to only the small number of terminally ill patients in pain or proliferate to others? What do you think of the issue more broadly? Pro assisted suicide? Against it? Somewhere in between? Never really thought about it? Tired of the maniac on the message board asking you how you feel about these things? Please leave a comment in the comment section. Anything you have to say about the issue from any point of view (even if it’s to tell me that I am 100% wrong on everything, not the least of which being my atrocious grammar) is greatly appreciated.

The New Face of Euthanasia

Hey guys! This is my first official post as your new co-webmaster and we are starting on a high note here. In our focus on euthanasia I am sure many of you are aware of the Rasouli case. For those of you who are not, this case was started by 2 doctors, right in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, who filed an affidavit because they “saw no medical purpose in keeping Mr. Rasouli on life support” after an infection resulting from surgery for a brain tumour left him in a persistent vegetative state. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where many believed it would be a new precedent setting case for euthanasia.  The decision to pull the plug however was opposed by Mr. Rasouli’s family, who long said that they saw improvement in his condition. At this point let me say how disturbing I find this. This is not a case of a person asking themselves for the right to take their own life, or even a family member of a vegetative relative asking someone to pull the plug on their relative, but a doctor, with no consent from anyone, unilaterally making the decision of life and death over another human being. I have always had the greatest respect for doctors and their efforts to save the lives of others, but in my opinion and I think the opinions of many others, this puts a troubling amount of power in their hands. But there is good news to report in this case. It seems that Mr .Rasouli is, although not completely, recovering. An article in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday reported that Mr. Rasouli is able to voluntarily control certain gestures, including the ability to give a thumbs-up gesture to communicate (although not yet completely) with loved ones, answering verbal requests from his wife. Doctors report that, at the moment, Mr. Rasouli is conscious of the world around him and suggest that far from being in a persistent vegetative state, only a step away from brain death, he may be, at least partially, conscious but paralysed. This to me is a reminder of the incredible mystery of the human body and medicine, that we can say that someone will absolutely never get better, and that term persistent vegetative state is always one that you hear connected with that, and then the next day someone is communicating with their thumbs to their wife. Who knows what ways Mr. Rasouli will surprise us all if we give him a chance to heal his body. We simply do not know. However, shockingly, this new development have not caused doctors to stop their calls to pull him from life support, saying that they “remain of the view that the standard of care does not require continuation of mechanical ventilation given his condition.” Now there is no doubt that this is a horrible situation for Mr. Rasouli and his family to be in. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be paralysed, with almost no way to communicate with my loved ones. The pain and fear would no doubt be unimaginable. However, like all life issues, to me it comes down to the issue of who has the right to make that call? What right do doctors, who have already misdiagnosed him once and admitted that they are as yet unclear about what his prospects are, have to tell him that his life does not have value, that he does not give meaning and hope to his family and loved ones crouched around his hospital bed. What right does any human being have to tell another living, conscious, feeling human being that his existence means less to the world then the bed he is occupying and that they are better off dead?  That’s what it comes down to for me anyway. What do you think my friends? Please comment, whether you are for or against this issue. I would love to talk to others and get their opinions about this issue.

Looking to the Netherlands on Euthanasia

There was an article in the Vancouver Sun a few days ago about euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Cristina Alarcon, pharmacist in BC, comments on the article as follows:

RE: Euthanasia supporters, critics in Canada look to Dutch for evidence
As pointed out by Henk Reitsma, the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands has lead to a “kind” of slippery slope; at its apex beams the patients’ apparent rights to self-determination, at its base lurks a chasm empowering the healthcare system to do what it wills.  And the non-compliant are over-dosed with sedatives, starved and dehydrated, practices that do not require reporting, thus avoiding risk of prosecution for not following proper “euthanasia” guidelines.  If guidelines are not always followed in the Netherlands, Canadians cannot presume to be exempt from misconduct.  And given our overtaxed healthcare system, the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada would be none other than a perfect recipe for abuse.

Cristina Alarcon

Cristina is right. To say there is not a problem with abuse due to euthanasia in the Netherlands because “rates” have not increased dramatically is a superficial assessment if not all of the data is taken into account. When euthanasia deaths go up by 19% from 2009 to 2010 there is some cause for concern. Also, Groningen University Hospital already decided to euthanize children under the age of 12 if their suffering is intolerable or if their condition is deemed incurable. Also, when your citizens are walking around with “Do not euthanize me” cards, according to the Nightingdale Alliance, it is usually not a good sign.

Maybe the slope is not that slippery yet but the Netherlands is definitely heading down the waterslide. And Canada, with all the attention being paid to out of control health care costs, may join them in the near future if we are not diligent in opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Margaret Somerville on why we shouldn’t authorize killing

Margaret Somerville appears on The Source with Ezra Levant to discuss the moral and ethical problems with legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The most important question to ask is, is society either authorizing someone to kill other people or authorizing them to help them kill themselves, is that morally wrong? [...] The problem with assisted suicide is that society has to become complicit in it and society has to say, “we’ll authorize this,” and society has to change its laws to allow it to be legal, and its that complicity that I think is so dangerous and wrong… It’s a culture of despair, and the opposite of despair is hope[...] People who want euthanasia are not depressed, it’s usually not because of pain, but [...] the state they’re in is hopelessness[... having] nothing to look forward to.

Watch the whole 9 minute interview here.

Dr. Adrian Owen on TVO’s The Agenda

Danny wrote about Dr. Adrian Owen’s research on awareness and patients in a vegetative state last year, while Owen was in the UK. Now he’s the Canada excellence research chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario, and Steve Paikin sat down with him for a half hour interview on his work this past Spring [25min]. Very important research to keep an eye on regarding “end of life” issues.

Let’s talk about eugenics

A friend of UTSFL sent this post to us. It is definitely worth a read!

What is one of the the number one things that pro-abortion advocates don’t want people thinking about? Maybe that over 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted.

There is a silent eugenics campaign going on against persons with disabilities, in the form of abortion. Advocates for abortion on demand never mention how many babies with disabilities are aborted every year. In the US 80%  to 90% of babies with spinal bifida are aborted. Over 90% of babies with Down Syndrome. Many babies with cystic fibrosis are aborted. Many more babies with rare ailments, mental disabilities, or physical disibilities are aborted every year. Women even choose to abort babies when ultrasounds late in pregnancy reveal birth defects like a cleft palate or a clubfoot.

It’s a not a simple issue issue. There are some cases where the baby would suffer very much if born. Many parents who choose abortion in these cases do it with the best intentions, out of love for their child and a desire not to see that child suffer. Further, raising a child with a disability really is difficult, emotionally and financially, for parents. A person with a disability may never be able to live independantly. He may always depend on support from parents or siblings. He might have a significantly reduced quality of life.

However, does that make the child any less a person? Just because someone looks different or is physically less able, or learns slower than you or me, that doesn’t make them less human. There is a whole gradient of ability amongst the human race. Is someone who got a PhD in physics at age seventeen more human than a barely-literate highschool dropout? Is an olympic athelete more human than someone in a wheelchair?

A disability certainly makes life more difficult, but can we really assume that someone who will have a more difficult life than average wouldn’t want to live or shouldn’t have the right to live?

The life of someone with mental and physical disabilities is not necessarily one of constant, unmitigated pain and suffering. With support from their family and community, many disabled people can live very happy and fulfilling lives. If you look around, you’ll find young adults with Down Syndrome graduating from highschool and taking classes at community college. There are special needs basketball teams, and there are children with special needs playing clarinet in their school bands. You’ll find people who would have been institutionalized 50 years ago who hold down steady jobs. They have friends, they have favourite pop singers, they have hobbies and interests. Yes, a child with serious mental disibilities will never grow up to be Prime Minister, and a child with serious physical disibilities will never grow up to be an NHL player–but, neither will the vast majority of us.

The growing trend of aborting babies with disabilities and congenital birth defects has stark societal consequences. Couples who choose to keep their “abnormal” children are viewed as cruel or crazy for allowing these children to be born, to suffer and to waste our reasources. There are journalists and intellectuals who have called for euthansia of children with disabilities at birth. We’re writing off whole groups of people as having no value or importance to society, just because they look different and they are unable to do some of the things that other people can. Instead of viewing persons with disabilities as human beings, people view them as subhuman creatures that are a drain on society.

Debating with some pro-choice friends about abortion, I brought up the fact that 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted–and someone was quick to reply that it didn’t matter if you aborted a child with Down Syndrome, becuase they were more like monkeys than human beings.

As long as abortion is legal, this issue isn’t going to go away. In fact, as medical sciences advance further and we can test more accurately, earlier, for a broader range of “abnormalities”, it will likely become even more common. A prenatal test for autism is in the works. How many parents would abort their child, knowing he or she had autism?

If you support legalized abortion, this is something you have to take into consideration–is it a good thing that every year we’re aborting thousands of babies who were initially wanted by their parents, until they found out that there was something “wrong” with their child?

On the other hand, if we as pro-lifers say these children have a right to be born and to live, then we have an additional responsibility to offer some measure of help and support to those with disabilities. This is something which should be as much a part of the pro-life cause and pro-life action as running crisis pregnancy centres, or holding prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. Volunteer with a group that runs programs for special needs kids, or patronize businesses that employ people with disabilities, like the Coffee Shed (there’s one in the New College library at U of T), a coffee shop run by people with special needs.

Laila Hulbert

Robert Latimer granted full parole

Many apologies to the readers of this blog for the lack of posts but I’m in exam mode and studying is hectic. While I try to survive pharmacy school here is a news report from CTV about the Robert Latimer case. I don’t have time at the moment to analyze it but here are a few of the points from the article:

Robert Latimer, who was convicted of second-degree murder for killing his severely disabled daughter, has been granted full parole and will be home for Christmas.

He was convicted by two sets of juries, one in 1994, and another at a retrial in 1997. He has said he did not receive a fair trial and wants Ottawa to reopen his case.

“It’s obvious they didn’t understand what was going on, and the medical stuff is hard to understand,” he told reporters outside his farm in 2008. “You’re not just going to read it and know.”

Latimer has said the carbon monoxide poisoning of Tracy at his farm near Wilkie, Sask., was a mercy killing because of her years of pain and difficult surgeries.

I wish I had the time to throw in my two cents but comments are always welcome. Check out the article and let us know what you think.

If you are also interested, Alex Schadenberg continues to do great work for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and he posted an editorial about how the Latimer case still haunts us.

“A Society Where Moral Values Differ”

I don’t know about you, but the prospect of people not only claiming, but rejoicing in a society where people’s “fundamental moral principles differ” scares me. And yet sadly that is the very society we seem to live in. Let us for now dismiss all the other current issues and focus on the most important one at hand: the sanctity of life itself is being questioned, with no sense of distortion.

On October 19th, 2010 in Great Britain, several politicians gathered together to debate the topic of Assisted Suicide at the Royal Geographical Society (covered by www.intelligencesquared.com)

The debate was called for by a multiple sclerosis patient Debby Purdy, opting for a change in law. The debate covers a wide array of thoughts circulating the topic of assisted suicide, such as: prosecutions of British citizens flying patients over the border to Switzerland to have assisted suicide done legally; the fact that suicide was officially legalized in 1961 but assisted suicide remained illegal; and the vague cut-off as to how vulnerable a patient has to be in order to allow assisted suicide (hours to live, days, weeks, months?).

The debate began with politician Emily Jackson, who stated:

The existence of legalized assisted dying provides reassurance to people. It in fact appears to enhance their ability to tolerate the present burdens of treatment. It is the prospect of being able to maintain control and autonomy at the end of life…

She claims that research supports this, and I cannot  doubt that this is probably true. But I do not see how knowing you can die a peaceful death whenever you want gives you the ability to tolerate a treatment. Medical  treatment is focussed on extending your life. You would more likely decide not to start or complete the treatment if you had the option of a way out. Death provides no reassurance to endure anything, it rather provides temptation to endure nothing; to escape everything.

What Emily is stressing however is probably that legalized assisted suicide will give people a sense of autonomy, a sense of choice (does this ring a bell?). I am a firm believer in free choice, freedom of the human person and their ability to make decisions. But of course, if a man is intent on killing my mother, I WILL do whatever it takes to stop him, and will by no means hold myself back on the basis of “choice”. Looking at human experience, it is clear that we DO in fact have a common morality.

Emily continues, saying:

In a liberal society, where we accept that people’s fundamental moral values differ, we should strive to ensure that people…can coexist without any of us forcing our moral values upon anyone else. So I would not enforce assisted death on them, but THEY would  force me to endure a death that I find intolerable.

Now there a several things wrong with her argument. First of all, a society founded on Liberalism, is generally characterized by equal rights and equal voice of all the people. A 19th century philosopher Thomas Green developed the term positive liberty  on which many societies still stand. This form of liberty views society “as an organic whole in which all individuals have a duty to promote the common good”. I don’t know about you, but “relative morality”and the “common good” do not seem to be the same thing.

Also, her argument which states by not legalizing assisted suicide the government imposes its morality on vulnerable patients is a counter-argument, for in saying that we should not impose morality on one another, she is herself imposing morality upon us (I will not even go into the absurdity that “life” has become a moral construct and not a right).

 But please do not only listen to my comments, I really encourage you all to listen to this debate, as it provides insight into the opponents way of thinking. It allows us to understand better the minds of the patients who wish for this “peaceful death”. Towards the end, Patrick Stone, on the opposing side, makes a very reasonable claim:

What would be gained by legalizing assisted suicide for those patients would be a small amount of extra autonomy to choose the hour and the day in which they die. But is that sufficient justification to expose large numbers of vulnerable patients to increased risk?

CBC needs new editors

CBC reported earlier in September that MP Francine Lalonde will not be running for re-election due to bone cancer. I pray she fights this disease as she did in the past. However, one part of the article struck me:

Lalonde made a name for herself in politics after introducing a private member’s bill that would allow euthanasia and assisted suicide under strict conditions.
Bill C-384 was defeated 228-59 in a vote earlier this year.
I’m not sure what the CBC’s definition of stricit conditions is, but here are the actual facts about Bill C-384 from Alex Schadenberg:
- The fact is that Bill C-384 would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for people with mental or physical pain,
- You did not have to be terminally ill and it didn’t define terminal illness.
- It was not limited to Canadian citizens.
- It defined competent as “appearing to be lucid.”
I would say the CBC needs new editors. Or, at the very least, they need to take 5 minutes and do a google search.

Two Visions of Life

A recent article in the National Post attracted my attention earlier this week, and its been on my mind ever since. Professor John Zucchi excellently presents what I think is a remarklably innovative yet most effective outlook on the Euthanasia debate. Whenever the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia has entered into dialogue, at least from personal experience, there seems to be an immediate desire to politicize the issue - not to say that the point in question is not already ever-present in our courts as well as Parliament for that matter (The recently unsuccessful Bill C-384 is testament to this). The point is, euthanasia, first and foremost, is a human question. As much as the discussions may revolve around the rights of medical practicioners alongside the usual ‘choice’ argument that the ability to have one’s self killed, is in itself a human right, this is not the point. Bill C-384 did not get defeated solely because the majority of Canadian representation is pro-life on this issue; it was bad law. Deeper than the case studies that have landmarked Canada’s legal history throughout the past few decades, we have forgotten, in the heat of this discussion, what is at stake. It’s important to remember that assisted suicide is not simply about whether or not the state can impede on the rights of the individual, likewise, no matter how difficult a decision euthanasia poses on each and every one of us, so often the matter is turned into a conversation of sentiments. So where are we to go from here?

September marks the beginning of numerous public hearings that are happening all across the province of Quebec. Canadians are, for the first time in 17 years, looking in with anticipation at the conclusions that will be reached throughout this highly publicized public forum.  

LifeSiteNews.com describes the wide-scale attention and implications that are being brought to the table of this debate:

The Quebec government agreed late last year to establish the commission to seek public and expert opinion on the issue in response to a motion filed by three members of the province’s Parti Quebecois (PQ), including leader Pauline Marois (Charlevoix), who asked Premier Jean Charest to establish such a commission.

Although euthanasia and assisted suicide are prohibited under the federal criminal code, the Quebec government could effectively legalize both forms of medical killing by directing provincial Crown prosecutors not to lay charges against doctors who end the lives of the terminally ill, elderly or profoundly disabled.

What is blatently evident from this article is the fact that this is, without a doubt, a public issue, moreso than most bioethical issues in fact, namely because we will all one day die. Euthanasia involves everyone; like it or not.

But this is the fundamental point. We cannot speak about the issue of euthanasia without talking about the human person. Professor Zucchi makes this absolutely clear. There cannot solely be discussion about the legislative provisions/restrictions regarding the legal practice of euthanasia in Canada. What is definite by the public cry in Quebec and the widespread publicity which has captured the attention of so many of us nationwide, is the recognition, that at a much deeper level, euthanasia demands of us to verify, what Zucchi calls, one of “two visions of life”:

This is the choice we are making on the question of euthanasia. It is about much more than asserting the right to time our own death. There is something more sacrosanct than rights, and that is life itself and the hope that sustains it. Our choice is between hopelessness and hope, between despair and another way of looking at life, where we are not masters of our own destinies but rather human beings who uphold our fellow human beings, and are willing to be accompanied by others. It is about solidarity, affirming the good life and therefore not being afraid to face a good death.