Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 15, 2002
Ethicists fear slide into euthanasia
Legalized euthanasia unlikely in Canada, says Miller
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Ethicists and pro-life activists are calling for vigilance in light of a law permitting euthanasia in the Netherlands.
While not everyone sees imminent danger of a similar law in Canada, most worry about the precedent it creates.
"I think it's a slippery slope to be truthful," said Sister Mary Lou Cranston, former head of the St. Joseph's University College Ethics Centre. "What we see happening so often is that something springs out of one place and then has a ripple effect across the world.
"Take the cloning issue, the reproductive technology issue. We just gradually get so used to hearing it that we don't even think about it anymore. And that would be my fear with this one too."
The Netherlands euthanasia law allows assisted suicide for patients experiencing intolerable and irremediable suffering. The decision to die must be the patient's but the law also allows patients to leave a written request for doctors to use their own discretion if the patient is not in a condition to decide.
Cranston noted that in the Netherlands euthanasia started before it was made legal. "It was tolerated for years and basically what happened is that it slippery sloped to this (law). And I would be afraid that it could happen here too."
Canada has clear legislation that speaks about not killing but "I think we have to look at the whole question again and make it very clear we are not for it," she said. "What we need is education (because) there are people who do not understand the difference between allowing people to die and euthanasia. There are people who claim we are already doing euthanasia.
"I think we have to be very clear on what we are doing when we terminate treatment. We need some education."
Cranston also says there is a need to look at society's attitude to human life. She said the indiscriminate killing in recent conflicts and the concerns for costs when it comes to caring for the ill show that in many ways "we really don't have a high respect for human life."
Father Mark Miller, director of the Redemptorist Ethics Consultancy, is worried about the precedent of the Dutch law.
"Whenever you put in a law like that, it makes it more dangerous in the sense that it is liable to be expanded," he said from Saskatoon. "You know, if the doctors can kill why can't somebody else kill and so on and so forth."
And he said when you start making it legal to kill people, "it is a very subtle way of telling them that once they reach a certain age or a certain illness, we don't have to care for them anymore.
"We try to make it their decision, which makes it seem legitimate, but basically what we are saying as a society is we don't need to care for you."
Although many people are quietly pushing for a similar law in Canada, Miller doesn't see immediate danger because there are also "a lot of people pushing against it."
"We've also got very strong commitment from an awful lot of good people to palliative care, the proper care of people when they are dying."
"So I don't see it happening in Canada, certainly not in the near future. And if we are vigilant, I don't think it will happen at all."
Miller said Canadians have to realize that dying is part of life and some beautiful things can happen while people are dying, despite the pain and suffering. "When we shorten people's lives we lose a period of often very intense grace."
Patty Nixon, president of Alberta Pro-Life, thinks the mindset that led to legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands is already in Canada. "The Liberal Party of Canada already has a policy that endorses euthanasia," she said. "We have to assume that the Liberal Party has a plan at some point to implement it."
Nobody knows whether the Netherlands law will spill over into Canada but the danger is real, the pro-life leader said.
Nixon said the only way to prevent euthanasia from becoming acceptable is to put people in government who have morals, ethics and religious background.