Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 17, 2010
Euthanasia may become normal – ethicist
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA - Margaret Somerville has warned doctors euthanasia will become the normal way to die if it is legalized.
One need only look at what has happened since abortion was decriminalized, she said. It was supposed to remain rare. In Europe today one in three pregnancies ends in abortion, while in Canada, the numbers are only slightly better.
The aging of the population and increasingly scarce health care resources would speed up normalization, she told the 120 doctors, medical students and others attending the annual conference of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies (CFCPS) May 1.
Somerville is the director of McGill University's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.
If euthanasia is legalized, there will be an "unstoppable expansion" of justifications for it. In the Netherlands, 30 years ago, one had to: be terminally ill, competent, exhaust all legitimate treatment options and repeatedly request euthanasia.
"Now not one of those requirements apply," she said. Parents of handicapped newborns can opt for a lethal injection up to a month after birth and people as young as 16 can opt for euthanasia, giving pain and suffering as a reason.
Studies show that most people request euthanasia out of intense pre-mortem loneliness, social isolation and a fear of being a burden on others, she said.
The state no longer requires a justification for euthanasia, she said. That is because people have bought the argument that the right to autonomy means the state should not prevent competent adults from dying at the time of their choosing.
While many see euthanasia as a solution to pain and suffering, Somerville said efforts have to be made to stop the pain and suffering first "and then ask them if they agree with euthanasia."
Dying alone or unloved is a universal human fear, she said. One factor in the upsurge is the unprecedented social change that has led to the loss of intact, extended families in the western world. This has led to intense pre-mortem loneliness.
Arguments against euthanasia are complex and far more difficult to make, she said.
"Today, the argument for euthanasia is the easiest to make," she said, noting the concern for the autonomous individual. "It's my right, my body. The individual has the right to choose death."
The arguments against euthanasia concern its effects on institutions, such as the health care system, hospitals, doctors and society as a whole, she said.
People often argue that we are merciful to dogs by euthanizing them, so why shouldn't we do the same for human beings, she said. "We're not dogs!"
Somerville said one of the biggest challenges is to argue there is something special about human beings without using religious reasons.
Traditional religion used to serve as a way of putting talk of death into a context of eternity, she said. "It is very difficult to justify suffering without some form of religious argument."
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