Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Quebec doctors approve of euthanasia

Canada is potentially entering very dangerous territory. Quebec's doctors have voted at least 2/3 in favor of allowing euthanasia in some circumstances. Without proper understanding and context, this could be a way of ushering in killing of the elderly just as killing of the unborn was ushered in several decades ago.

There are some Catholic principles which come into play here. Sometimes a patient will be suffering tremendously, and a high dosage of painkiller must be administered to alleviate the pain. Sometimes the painkillers themselves will cause death. This is acceptable since death is an unintended side effect of the painkillers. This is covered under the law of double effect. However, what is not covered is the purposeful killing of a patient to relieve his suffering.

The different is the intent. One the intent is to relieve suffering, the other the intent is to kill. Regardless of the goals, those are the intents. Right now in Canada, doctors will give doses of painkillers which end up killing the patient. This is part of the reason why this legislation was enacted. Doctors of course do not want to face possible criminal charges for doing something which is not morally wrong. If that was the only goal of this legislation, that would be alright, and I would vouch for it.

However, it goes further than this. Right now, it is a little grey, but talk has emerged that it could be used for patients whose death seems imminent or inevitable. I would argue, if this is the case, why not let the individual die a natural death. I believe they want more than that. They want to speed up the process, remove the burden on the health care system.

Allowing euthanasia will be a bad idea because doctors and scientists tend to bring the law to its furthest possible limit. A common occurrence is that an elderly person will be made to feel as a burden, and the sources of this are innumerable. First, their family discusses quite vocally how much trouble it is taking care of this person. If that wasn't enough, they are reminded that they are a burden to the hospitals and that if the hospital is full and they are taking up a bed, they are denying others the opportunity to receive care. With the introduction of loose euthanasia laws, doctors will begin to suggest that patients do the "right thing" and die with "dignity". These poor elderly people will be assailed from all angles. Not one person will put away their selfishness and suggest this person is loved and should not end their life.

In the Netherlands, it has been reported that in one year 550 people were euthanized against their wishes. This should send chills down our spine. Bill C-384 here in Canada was sent for a second round of debate, and it was downright scary. It said people should have the right to opt for euthanasia for mental or physical distress. Now all of a sudden, instead of helping people with mental illness who want to end their lives, we want to facilitate it. If people were being logically consistent on the issue of euthanasia, then they would not try to prevent suicide, but rather assist people in committing it. Instead of suicide help lines, we would have suicide how-to lines. Why not? People who want to commit suicide are mentally or physically distressed. But we have always recognized that these people need help, not help in dying.

Let's hope that people are wise enough to reject this proposed legislation.


  1. You're using the same tired, and often refuted, arguments as everyone else. Come back when you have an original idea which wasn't implanted by the Catholic church.

  2. For assisted suicide but against voluntary euthanasia !

    About the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must distinguish between the legal, ethical and religious arguments. One cannot just say without qualification that there is no difference between the two : in one case it is the patient himself who take his own life (assisted suicide), whereas in euthanasia it is the physician. One must first specify on what grounds (legal, ethical or religious) he draws is arguments. In the field of ethics, one can reasonably argue that there is no difference between the two. However, in the legal field, there is a difference between euthanasia (so-called first-degree murder with a minimum sentence of life imprisonment) and assisted suicide (which is not a murder or homicide and which the maximum sentence is 14 years of imprisonment). In the case of assisted suicide, the cause of death is the patient's suicide and assisted suicide is somehow a form of complicity (infraction of complicity). But since the attempted suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972 (and in 1810 in France), this complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

    « In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, "is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone": Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

    In contrast, voluntary euthanasia is considered a first-degree murder. The doctor kills the patient (at his request) by compassion to relieve his pain and suffering. There's a violation of one of the most fundamental ethical and legal principles : the prohibition to kill a human being. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can remove a person's life. The end of the social contract is "the preservation of the contractors" and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We've abolished the death penalty in 1976 (and in 1981 in France) in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! Even if voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the patient) may, under certain circumstances, be justified ethically, we cannot ipso facto concluded that euthanasia should be legalized or decriminalized. The legalization or decriminalization of such an act requires that we take into account the social consequences of the legalization or decriminalization. The undeniable potential of abuse (especially for the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will) and the risk of erosion of the social ethos by the recognition of this practice are factors that must be taken into account. The risk of slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent patient) to non-voluntary euthanasia (without the consent of the incompetent patient) or involuntary (without regard to or against the consent of the competent patient) are real as confirmed by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which states :

    "There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used as well to eliminate those who are a burden to others or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject's consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act ».

    Eric Folot