Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 4, 2007
Euthanasia issue rises again
Conference told of CMA plans to revisit the issue
By BILL GLEN
By WCR Staff
Archbishop Richard Smith says no one can dictate the end of his or her own life, or that of another. That is God's decision.
"God is the author of life - not we," Smith said.
"Christians understand human life as God's gift. We are therefore its stewards, and in no way its masters," Smith said in a talk to the conference.
"Part of the covenant is to be in a life-affirming relationship with the patient."
Dr. Sheila Rutledge
"This concept of stewardship needs to be claimed and developed, and to it we must give effective witness by our own lives. This seems to be one of the decisive points of difference between those who are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and those who promote these practices."
Dr. Sheila Rutledge Harding noted that to prescribe or administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient, even if asked, or to counsel any such thing, is a breach of the Hippocratic oath.
"Part of the covenant is to be in a life-affirming relationship with the patient," said Harding, associate dean for medical education at the University of Saskatchewan. "My task is to cure sometimes, to relieve often and to comfort always."
Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai is past president of the CMA and former president of the Alberta Medical Association.
Currently, Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide, she said. Every few years, there is a challenge, but nothing to date has led the CMA to change its policy.
However, Collins-Nakai says there are concerns that there are not enough palliative care services for patients. Nor are there adequate suicide prevention programs.
The Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition in Canada estimates that only 25 per cent of Canadians who need palliative and end-of-life services have access to those services.
Also there has not been appropriate research on medical decision-making around the time of death, she said.
"I will scream and scream."
- Dr. Fawzy Morcos
"Any changes in proposed legislation of policy need to be discussed with the public, and there needs to be public input on those."
In 2005, a private member's bill to allow assisted suicide in Canada was introduced in the House of Commons, but died when Parliament prorogued.
The last national poll conducted by the CMA regarding euthanasia occurred in 2003. At that time, 49 per cent of Canadians were in favour of legalizing euthanasia, 37 per cent were opposed and 13 per cent were undecided.
Collins-Nakai said it is imperative patients have their questions answered with appropriate information about the dying process.
"It is important that we respect the right of a patient to accept, or reject, medical or health recommendations about their life."
Internationally, three countries and one state in the United States have legalized some form of aid-in-dying.
Belgium permits voluntary euthanasia while the Netherlands permits physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. Switzerland permits the right to die; it permits assisted suicide.
"There is a significant medical tourism to Switzerland where people go for assisted suicide," said Collins-Nakai.
Oregon has permitted physician-assisted suicide since 1997.
Jason West, a philosophy professor at Newman Theological College, said euthanasia is a choice born of hopelessness.
To counter this, those in pain should be drawn into the community so they realize that they matter and their life has meaning.
"They have many lessons to offer others that no one else is in a position to teach us," West said.
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