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Rebranding Killing and Suicide: The Ugly Truth About Euthanasia

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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.

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