CMA president's desire for euthanasia debate raises concern

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

August 26, 2013

OTTAWA – Anti-euthanasia groups have expressed concern because the incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) says the organization may revisit its anti-euthanasia policy.

"What I am sensing is that thinking is evolving quite rapidly around this issue right now, and it may change," Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti told Postmedia's Sharon Kirkey Aug. 17.

"More [doctors] want to have the discussion," Francescutti told her. "And as more people start having the discussion they start comparing what's happening right now, either in their own practice or within their institutions."

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said he found Kirkey's article "misleading."

He noted this article and others in the mainstream media do not contact those on the opposite side of the issue such as EPC or Canadians with disabilities.

"They are acting like it's a done deal," said Schadenberg.

The articles treat euthanasia "as if it is simply turning off medical treatment," he said. There is a big difference between discontinuing futile treatment and "giving someone a lethal injection."

Giving lethal injections "should be of incredible concern," he said.

According to Kirkey's article, some surveys "suggest euthanasia is already being practised."

"For example, morphine can be administered in ever-increasing amounts to control terminal pain," she wrote. "Morphine depresses breathing at high doses."

"We don't want to discourage the large doses of pain killer if it's necessary to kill the pain," said Schadenberg.

But is Francescutti suggesting that because there is already some abuse in the use of morphine, the practice should be legalized? he asked. This may be a variation of an argument that says euthanasia is already happening, so it should be brought in the open, legalized and regulated.

A doctor who is willing to abuse a law that says you might go to jail for euthanizing the patient, is not less likely to abuse the law if it is no longer illegal and he won't go to jail for it, he said.

"I don't see how doctors would be gaining anything by patients wondering when the white coat comes into the room whether he's going to give me a dose of morphine to make me comfortable or a dose to end my life," he said.