Euthanasia: the slippery slope sold as desired progress

When 'safeguards' become 'barriers to access'.
Aubert Martin | Jul 4 2017 | comment  



The plaintiffs with their lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard (Alison Northcott)

A month after the publication of a letter by the secretary of the College of Physicians of Quebec – in which he expressed his concern  about a growing “pressure, demanding a form of death à la carte” and in which he denounced those who interpret refusals of euthanasia as a form of exclusion – lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard is challenging before the courts the cases of two people living with disabilities who were refused the assistance of a physician to kill themselves.

The plaintiffs requested the removal of the “reasonably foreseeable death” clause of the federal law as well as the “end of life” requirement in the Quebec law.

More voices were added to the chorus of “rebels” decrying the cruelty of all criteria that dare make reference to the proximity of death.

Yet not so long ago, the elected Members of the National Assembly in Quebec (MNAs) were congratulating themselves on the wisdom of their law that made reference to… the end of life. This is another reversal of logic in the long list of changes of rhetoric we have already witnessed.

Indeed, at the time of the adoption of the Quebec bill, words like “safeguard” and “strict conditions” peppered the speech of those seeking to calm the fears of people wary of allowing homicide under certain circumstances.

Today, potential extensions of the law are justified by referring to “consensus” and “the will of the people,” while the “safeguards” have turned into “barriers to access”.

Meanwhile, the same promoters of euthanasia who claimed that it was only a matter of “exceptional requests for exceptional cases” have updated their rhetoric to justify the explosion of euthanasia requests: it has become “a response to a need.”

Yet, before the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Quebec and in Canada, warnings of the slippery slope were met with mockery and contempt from those who embraced medical suicide with open arms.

At best, this cautious warning, based on the experience of countries that legalized euthanasia before us, was treated as a scarecrow brandished by alarmists. “The slippery slope doesn’t exist!” responded those anti-skeptics and other merchants of death.

Today, slightly more than a year after the Quebec bill that legalized euthanasia came into force, we see the first obvious signs of the slippery slope: we have gone from exception to promotion. Already the “end of life” criterion is presented as discrimination which prevents people with disabilities from committing suicide, implying that their living conditions justify their desire to die.

Secondly, the argument that euthanasia is about “capable and consenting people” is giving way to the idea of killing an incapable person (with Alzheimer’s or dementia) regardless of the person’s consent at the time of death.

Finally, according to a Canadian study published in May, the proverbial patient writhing in pain on his deathbed has morphed into a person in existential crisis over his loss of autonomy (read: disability).

So we won’t be surprised if tomorrow we are presented with other ludicrous propositions, such as the one currently gaining popularity in the Netherlands: opening “medical aid in dying” to elderly people who feel they have accomplished their lives.

A society does not accept overnight the idea that the state should endorse the suicide of an elderly and healthy person simply because she is tired of living. It must first live through the deep malaise that accompanies every new expansion of euthanasia access that is sold to us as progress.

In fact, when we think about it, the only thing that is “reasonably foreseeable” is the extension of medically assisted suicide to more and more groups of people. If death is sold as a solution to suffering, and if suicide is viewed favourably when a doctor is involved, the real question is not why some are opposed to it, but rather “why say yes to one and no to others?”

Aubert Martin is the Executive Director of Vivre dans la Dignité (Living with Dignity), a Quebec-based organisation.


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