Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 31, 2009
Bill C-384 legalizing euthanasia must die
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide destroy patient trust and denies the merits of palliative care
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
On May 13 Francine Lalonde, a member of Parliament with the Bloc Quebecois, introduced her private member's Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity), to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Canada.
The issue is one of pressing interest and concern but also widespread confusion.
A major cause of the confusion is what George Orwell, in his essay, Politics and the English Language, calls the language of "euphemisms, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." Some of the language being used in the euthanasia debate appears "designed to make lies sound truthful and murder acceptable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
The rhetoric of "choice," "aid-in-dying," "compassion," "a new medical treatment," "self-determination," "autonomy" and "death with dignity" tend to cover up the reality that euthanasia is a deliberate act undertaken by one individual with the intention and result of ending the life of another to relieve that person's suffering. Assisted suicide is the act of killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides the knowledge, means or both.
This proposed legislation would reverse the reigning medical ethic which for more than two millenniums has insisted that doctors must heal and never kill.
PATIENTS' TRUST DAMAGED
Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would irreparably damage the doctor-patient relationship. The patient's trust in the doctor's wholehearted devotion to the patient's best interests will be hard to sustain once doctors are licensed to kill. Furthermore, such legislation would put undue stress on the conscience of the physician pressured by patients and others to take part in killing.
The unmistakable issue is the intentional killing of a human being. It has nothing to do with natural death or dignity, and everything to do with killing. We are not discussing letting someone die.
Respecting a patient's refusal of treatment at any time in the course of treatment is not euthanasia. Medical tradition and practice clearly distinguish between refusal of medical intervention and intentionally causing death by euthanasia.
Discontinuing treatment when it serves no therapeutic purpose or the patient requests treatment to cease is not euthanasia. Nor is abstaining from medically futile treatment euthanasia.
All treatments that impose undue burdens on the patient without overriding benefits or that simply provide no benefits may justifiably be withheld or withdrawn. In making such decisions, the judgment is about the worth of treatment, not about the worth of lives.
The provision of adequate medicines to control pain is not euthanasia. The administration of high doses of painkillers and sedatives to terminally ill patients may lead to a shortening of their lives. It is, however, morally acceptable to administer such drugs in doses which are linked to their painkilling or sedative effects, and not to the termination of life.
It is not correct to call this "euthanasia" because there is no intention to shorten the patient's life.
Those favouring assisted suicide have not given adequate attention to palliative care. The goal of palliative care is to give comfort and thereby enable the dying to live while dying. Letting life ebb away can in no way be equated with active euthanasia. Allowing to die is a world removed from giving a lethal injection.
Palliative care also aims at lessening or managing the suffering of terminal patients. Often they feel helpless, lonely, and a burden to others. With empathy, comfort care and affirmation, palliative caregivers accompany patients in their suffering and by their kindness and compassion help the patient maintain a sense of worth and a feeling of belonging, and move from depression to hope.
The legislation of aid-in-dying would pose a threat to the elderly, the infirm, handicapped newborns and to all members of society who are unable to look after their own best interests. This kind of legislation says to them, "You're not important; you're not needed; in fact, you are a burden to others."
Canadian citizens should be assured that government recognizes their dignity as important at every stage of life. Government must reassure them that their needs will be met humanely. They must be shown true compassion in the care they receive from society, not through death dealing, but by being looked after in a life-giving way.
As Canadians, we all have a duty to speak up for the rights and dignity of every citizen. In short, it is Bill C-384 that must die.