The deaths of two Canadian women made headlines in recent months: the February suicide of Ruth Goodman, a Vancouver social activist who supported the legalization of assisted suicide; and the physician-assisted suicide in Switzerland in April of Susan Griffiths, a Winnipeg resident with multiple system atrophy who had lobbied for the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada.
In the April 25th Calgary Herald opinion piece “Your right to die impacts everyone’s right to live,” Susan Martinuk contended that the Globe and Mail glamourized these women and other individuals who sought to promote change to euthanasia laws through the sharing of their end-of-life stories and that the paper failed to provide balanced coverage by not publishing “stories that encourage people to continue to live.”
Ms. Martinuk stated that arguments in favour of assisted suicide are based not on facts, statistics, or a study of other countries’ experiences but on “emotional narratives that are loaded with words like compassion, ‘I feel,’ and claims of ‘my body, my choice’ and the ignorant and naive assumption that this ‘will only affect me.’”
She argued that, since assisted suicide involves the assistance of another person and the assurance that society will not interfere, it is a public act and not a private one. Observing that legalizing euthanasia would affect the kind of medical care Canadians receive, she noted that Canada has “a medical profession that is dedicated to supporting life, and is not compromised by some within it who will happily help you to die.”
In fact, a February 2013 Canadian Medical Association survey revealed that only 16 percent of Canadian doctors would be willing to perform euthanasia. Ms. Martinuk suggested Canadians consider other countries’ experiences with euthanasia and assisted suicide.
A 2012 study in The Lancet medical journal found that the number of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands has risen by 73 percent since 2003 and that 23 percent of cases are not reported to a review committee as required by law. In 41.2 percent of euthanasia deaths, the physician did not discuss the decision with the patient, their relatives or another doctor. And physician-assisted suicide has come to be known as “alleviation of symptoms.” In Belgium, only 52.8 percent of euthanasia deaths are reported and 32 percent take place without patient consent, according to recent statistics.
Ms. Martinuk maintained that legalizing assisted suicide would affect everyone’s right to live and would be unlikely to ensure individuals could die “on their own terms.” She wrote that “euthanasia has nothing to do with ‘my individual choice’ or ‘my right to die.’ It’s a very slippery slope that affects all members of society.”
In the April 26th Canadian Press article “Canadian woman dies with aid of doctor at clinic in Switzerland,” reporter Steve Lambert wrote about the death of Susan Griffiths and the law regarding assisted suicide in Canada. In 2012, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled (in the Carter case) that Canada’s law prohibiting doctor-assisted suicide is unconstitutional, a decision that the federal government appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal. A ruling is expected later in 2013.
Those who support the current law, including disability rights groups, believe that allowing assisted suicide would have an impact on Canadians with disabilities. Laurie Beachell of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said, “We actually have members who are viewed so negatively that many others assume they’d be better off dead.”
In his February 4th StarPhoenix article “Assisted death backers call for legalization: Saskatoon woman willing to be test case,” reporter Jason Warick quoted Wanda Morris, Executive Director of Dying with Dignity Canada, as saying that “There is one law on the books and another in practice,” with regard to assisted suicide. In Ms. Morris’s view, the ban on assisted suicide is out of sync with public opinion.
Action Life maintains that there is much confusion surrounding the debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia. Many Canadians are not familiar with data coming from countries where euthanasia is legal. There is ample evidence as noted previously in this post that safeguards in the Netherlands and Belgium fail to protect patients from being killed by euthanasia without their consent or request.
Perhaps Canadians should be asked a clear and direct question: Do you support giving doctors the right to kill patients?
A video released by the Quebec group Physicians’ Alliance for the Total Refusal of Euthanasia says it quite simply: Killing is not Caring. Medical Aid in Dying is killing.
Licia Corbella’s February 18th Calgary Herald opinion piece “Arguments in favour of assisted suicide rely on misinformation” notes that B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer Grace Pastine, who is arguing in favour of legalizing euthanasia in the B.C. Court of Appeal case, said that none of the countries or U.S. states that have legalized doctor-assisted suicide would have allowed it in Ruth Goodman’s case because she was neither terminally ill nor in pain. However, Ms. Corbella notes that physicians in the Netherlands have performed euthanasia in the cases of infants with mild birth defects and depressed teenagers. And in January, a physician in Belgium euthanised deaf twin brothers Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who had learned they were going blind but were neither terminally ill nor dying.
Karin Wells of CBC News reported in the May 5th post “Death of twin brothers fuels debate over Belgian euthanasia law” that the Verbessem twins’ suicide has sparked renewed debate over legalized euthanasia in Belgium, where the national parliament is debating extending the euthanasia law to include terminally ill children and people with dementia. Belgium, a jurisdiction that accepts “mental suffering” as grounds for euthanasia, legalized euthanasia by doctor-administered injection over ten years ago.
We sum up this news round up about assisted suicide and euthanasia with a reminder that killing is not healthcare.