The Canadian Medical Association is meeting this week, and the buzz is that euthanasia and assisted suicide will be discussed. Euthanasia activists are striving to neutralize the medical opposition to their plans, and want the CMA to compromise its clearly stated principle forbidding doctors killing patients. If this principle is broken, an invasive weed will have entered our garden.
As an analogy, remember it took centuries of work to rid our society of capital punishment. Finally, we reached the point that we did not trust any system with the legal power to kill. Did we say to ourselves, "There are probably only a few innocent people executed, and one of them is very unlikely to be me... or someone I care about." ? No, the mere possibility that the law would be wrongly used -- on anyone -- was finally enough to justify a complete prohibition of the death penalty.
Moreover, it was time for the state to stop implicating itself in any killing. Why then, a few years later, are we talking about the state giving legal power to doctors to allow them to kill selected patients? Do we truly believe that those failures to protect the depressed and vulnerable under other suicide and euthanasia systems could never happen here? Do we have any idea what we would be trading for our present privilege of insisting that our doctors and nurses are not willfully implicated in any killing, ever?
The art of euphemism -- of sugar coating your verbal meaning -- has been raised to a syrupy peak by the proponents of euthanasia. When killing and suicide can be rebranded in the hearts and minds of average Canadians, the death lobby wins. What is truly being promised is the medical equivalent of a silent bullet in the head. The irony is that we don't need it. Symptom control at the end of life has never been better, and the right thing to do is to deliver it when needed.
Most of the euthanasia advocates I have met witnessed the poorly managed death of someone close to them and so joined the nearest right-to-die lobby group. This is naive but understandable. For these activists, indignation at seeing substandard care has trumped common sense. Common sense should tell us that we and our loved ones will not be safer or more empowered when the right to kill is given to doctors and nurses, under any system that can be dreamed up.
Canadians were recently horrified by the deaths of two children when a deadly snake could not be kept caged. The suicide and euthanasia system so desperately wanted by some activists would be like that cage: The snake would not stay in it forever. We are now the fortunate inhabitants, like most people in the civilized world, of a place where euthanasia has been banned. If ever legalized, it will send its tendrils into every hospital and care facility.
With each challenge to the ban, the euthanasia promoters have only to win once. In defending itself, Canada has to win every time. The vote against euthanasia was 79% in Parliament in 2010, and it was rejected by 74% of doctors in a recent CMA poll. This should not lead to complacency. The assaults on the key medical principle will not stop. Our wisdom will need endurance.
Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year. The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241 that: "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada. The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability. Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another. The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation. Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."(CP)