Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide will threaten vulnerable people, the director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition told a gathering in Saskatoon.
While supporters of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide assert that this is a matter of providing people with a personal choice, the real issue is the safety of everyone in society, said Alex Schadenberg.
If euthanasia or assisted suicide is legalized, abuses are inevitable, he said at the Oct. 20 talk co-sponsored by Alliance for Life and Campaign Life Coalition Saskatchewan.
Schadenberg cited cases and studies from countries and states that have legalized euthanasia, which demonstrate safeguards do not always work and abuses do occur. Medical personnel do not always abide by regulations, with studies revealing that vulnerable people, such as the disabled and the elderly – those whom one Dutch doctor describes as "bed blockers" – are being killed without their consent.
Recent studies concerning the Belgian euthanasia law show that 32 per cent of the assisted deaths are done without request and 47 per cent go unreported in one region.
"Let us not be naive and think it is all voluntary," Schadenberg said. Where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legalized, there have been incremental extensions over time, going beyond what was originally envisioned, he said.
In the Netherlands, after the legalization of euthanasia for consenting adults, the "Groningen protocol" was developed to regulate the euthanasia of newborn children in the wake of incidents in which newborns with disabilities were killed to alleviate suffering.
In Belgium, there is now a debate about expanding the law to allow euthanasia for children with disabilities or those with dementia, Schadenberg reported.
There is a strong link between depression and requests for euthanasia and suicide, he said. For instance, a 2005 study in the Netherlands by M.L. van der Lee reported "Almost half of all the requests for euthanasia were made by patients who were depressed and 44 per cent of the patients who were depressed requested euthanasia." he said.
In Belgium, the son of Lieve De Troyer is taking issue with the euthanasia of his mother, who suffered from chronic depression. Although the 64-year-old woman had no other disease or incurable condition, her death was carried out on the recommendation of a single psychiatrist, Schadenberg said. Her family was only informed of the decision the day after her death.
It is important to clearly define terms, and examine the language of legislation and the words used by advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide, said Schadenberg.
"Euthanasia is an action or omission, which is intentionally done to cause death. There is a clear intention to cause death. Death is the result, usually done by lethal injection," he said. "It only differs from homicide in its intention to relieve suffering."
Withdrawing or withholding medical treatment is not euthanasia, he said, "especially treatment which is useless, or burdensome or futile." Using large doses of medication to control pain or suffering is not euthanasia, nor is sedation.
A common myth holds there is no difference between killing and letting die, even though this is clearly not true, said Schadenberg. By saying there is no difference, advocates can argue that euthanasia is already happening, so we may as well legalize it so it can be regulated.
In Quebec, Bill 52 (An Act Respecting End-Of-Life Care) is an attempt to legalize euthanasia through the back door, Schadenberg said. "The Quebec government is proposing to define euthanasia as 'medical treatment,'" since health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, while the Criminal Code is a federal concern.
Both Bill 52 in Quebec and the 2002 Belgian euthanasia law define palliative care as including "medical aid in dying," which is actually euthanasia, he said. "The doctor will administer a lethal dose: that's euthanasia, it isn't anything else."