The debate about euthanasia is heating up. Most questions of modern medical ethics arise from new technologies that present new questions. Yet, euthanasia has nothing fundamentally to do with technology; the concept of mercy-killing is ancient. Few cultures, however, have ever embraced human euthanasia as morally acceptable. What has changed in Canada today to bring back the debate?
Many things. Among the most important is our culture's growing sense of nihilism about suffering and its significance. Owing partially to our material wealth, we have come to see pain as a difficult aberration in life rather than as a meaningful part of it. As such, when we see ourselves or loved ones in pain, we want it simply to end — immediately.
Many know the saying “You have to fish or cut bait”. Many fewer know the law’s equivalent, “You can’t approbate and reprobate”. But the Canadian Medical Association’s recent dealing with their 2007 Policy on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide makes it seem they are unaware of the warning and wisdom these axioms communicate.
That CMA policy unambiguously declares: "Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide." Despite that, a motion passed at the recent CMA General Council meeting, which ostensibly was meant only to ensure freedom of conscience, has allowed the CMA to make the following statement in its intervener factum in the upcoming appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case:
A prisoner has been allowed by a Belgian court to undergo euthanasia. Claiming that he is unable to control the violent sexual urges which impelled him to commit several rapes and a murder, 50-year-old Frank Van Den Bleeken wants to die. “My life has now absolutely no meaning. They may as well put a flower pot here,” he said in a television documentary earlier this year. He says that he is suffering “unbearable psychological anguish”.
Here in Australia another World Suicide Prevention Day has passed uneventfully. Suicide Prevention Australia made some touching TV advertisements which made me cringe at the pain felt by those left behind. Their anguish is something we too often forget.
As Lifeline, the suicide prevention organisation, puts it, “Suicide loss can impact on physical and mental health. It’s important people bereaved by suicide are treated with compassion and support. They may experience: shock, numbness, denial; searching for reasons ‘why?’; guilt; anger/blame; despair; listlessness; stigma and shame; loneliness and disconnection; depression; thoughts of suicide themselves.”
This message does not seem to be getting through to the media, however. An Australian Senator, David Leyonhjelm, published a libertarian argument for assisted suicide in OnLine Opinion shortly before Suicide Prevention Day. “It is fine to promote the treatment of depression and palliative care,” he wrote. “But it is not acceptable to claim their availability…
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A Belgian man is challenging his country’s euthanasia law in the European Court of Human Rights. Dr Tom Mortier’s mother was put to death by a doctor for “untreatable depression” even though she was not terminally ill. Mortier did not find out what had happened until he received a telephone call the day after her death.
“The government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death,” said a lawyer working on the case, Robert Clarke, of the Alliance for Defending Freedom. “A person can claim that she should be able to do whatever she pleases, but that does not override the government’s responsibility to protect the weak and vulnerable. We are encouraging the European Court to uphold this principle, which is completely consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.”
It's official. Like Belgium, The Netherlands has completely lost any sense of respect for the law and has leapt, lemming-like, off the moral cliff. Dutch news is reporting on the euthanasia death of an elderly woman who sought euthanasia because she did not want to live in a nursing home.
The report said that she visited a 'special clinic set up to help people whose doctors do not support euthanasia'. This incident sparked the second reprimand of the 'Life Clinic' in the last four months. In the previous case the same clinic euthanasied a woman with identified psychiatric problems without enough consultations with the woman. In this current case, according to the Trouw newspaper, the eutanasia monitoring committee concluded that "The doctor has based his decision solely on the fact that the patient was in a nursing home."
I wonder why discussion of end of life options comes mostly from people younger than I am.
Recently, I was on a panel at a meeting of Liberal senators. Their open caucus initiative reaches beyond politics and invites other Canadians to share information and discussion on topics of national importance — an admirable endeavour.
The topic was end of life care choices. The first speaker was the MP whose private member’s bills in the Commons would legalize doctor-assisted dying in Canada. Three of us spoke from personal knowledge of people who have disabilities; another from the perspective of dying with dignity; another about palliative care.
Personally, I believe that palliative care should not be considered an option, but as good medical practice. That it is not available to all who need it, is to our collective shame.
Perhaps in part because of the dwindling birth rates and a steadily ageing and costly population, it is customary now in Britain for the subject of active euthanasia to be revisited every year. Charles (Lord) Falconer is at it again seeking to legalise medical complicity in homicide. The subject comes before Parliament today.
Notwithstanding the horrific findings of widespread non-consensual sedation and dehydration in UK's hospitals, hospices and care homes and the Neuberger Review confirming the catastrophe, Falconer is seeking to open up new ways of eliminating the disabled, depressed, old and vulnerable.
A letter organised by Terence English, patron of Dignity in Dying, is being supported by 27 public figures including Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Michael Rawlins, former chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Graham Winyard, a former NHS director.
Theo Boer is a Dutch medical ethicist who has changed his mind on euthanasia. This is an article he wrote for the UK's Dail Mail warning the House of Lords not to pass an "assisted dying" bill. Thanks to Alex Schadenberg.
In 2001 The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia and, along with it, assisted suicide. Various safeguards were put in place to show who should qualify and doctors acting in accordance with these safeguards would not be prosecuted. Because each case is unique, five regional review committees were installed to assess every case and to decide whether it complied with the law.
For five years after the law became effective, such physician-induced deaths remained level - and even fell in some years. In 2007 I wrote that ‘there doesn’t need to be a slippery slope when it comes to…
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Have the body-snatchers taken Lord Carey? This is what I ask myself as I read his support for an assisted suicide bill. He comes up with all the usual clichés used to justify turning doctors into assisted killers. Compassion, care, but worst of all, Christian love. He abuses each and every concept.
Lord Carey also conflates a number of key issues (perhaps conveniently, I am not too sure; I do not believe a man of his intelligence could be genuinely confused). I am tempted to go through his article line by line to point out the errors, but will desist.
Careful! is MercatorNet's blog about end-of-life issues. We respect the dignity of each person from the beginning of life to its natural end. Leave your comments at the foot of our articles. The more the better! Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.