Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 27, 2008
Somerville stresses importance of anti-euthanasia law
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
“How do we want our great, great grandchildren to die?”
That’s a question bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville posed to about 200 physicians, nurses, and other health care and ministry professionals who attended a euthanasia workshop Oct. 17-18.
Somerville urged the protection of Canada’s ethical environment for future generations become as important as preserving the physical environment.
Legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide would place “the very soul of medicine on trial” and endanger society’s respect for human life, she said.
“The first thing we have to do is keep the law intact,” said Somerville, the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.
“Twenty-first century eugenics” is already taking place in the moral vacuum left by the absence of any law restricting abortion in Canada, Somerville said.
More than 90 per cent of Down Syndrome babies are aborted if diagnostic tests reveal the syndrome during pregnancy. Quebec might soon require doctors to offer screening for Down Syndrome.
If the law against doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia is removed, the cumulative effect of various individual decisions will have a similar effect on the elderly and infirm, she warned.
Intense individualism, moral relativism, fear of the mystery around death, elevation of reason as the only way of knowing and utilitarian arguments are increasing societal pressures in favour of euthanasia, Somerville said.
The increasing numbers of aging Baby Boomers poised to put unprecedented pressure on the health care system compounds these ideas. This is a “deadly combination,” she said.
She noted most of the health care dollars used during a person’s lifetime are spent in the last six months of life.
Increasingly, moral decisions are being made on the basis of “my body,” “my life,” “you keep out of it” and “government stay out of it,” she said. The cumulative effect of all these individual decisions can have a highly negative effect on the ethical environment for future generations.
“Euthanasia is a central values issue,” she said. “What we decide about euthanasia will have implications far beyond the context of euthanasia.”
Somerville urged finding common ground with others, exploring areas of agreement rather than differences in finding solutions to complex moral questions. For euthanasia she urged a focus on pain management.
Pro-euthanasia arguments always use terrible pain as a moral justification, along with terminal illness, she said. Pain control is essential — even pain relief that ends up shortening life.
Somerville also urged that pro-life voices be consistent and abandon support for capital punishment. “You can’t be pro-capital punishment and anti-euthanasia.”
Maintaining trust in the medical system depends on physicians’ “absolute repugnance to killing people,” she said, noting that patients will be afraid of treatment if they know doctors can kill them.
She also warned of harm to the underlying values of medicine and society’s respect for life and the impact on medical and nursing educations if euthanasia is legalized.
Would learning about and giving lethal injections become requirements?
Ethics surrounding health care are of crucial importance, because everyone has a personal stake in it, she said.
The present ethical conflict and distress around euthanasia is a sign of health, and far preferable to ethical indifference, she said.