Physicians fear assisted suicide will drive them out of medicine

February 22, 2016

EDMONTON - His voice breaking with emotion, Dr. Denis Vincent said "I cannot believe society has come to this. Why does society need to do this?"

The Edmonton family physician was responding to the news the Canadian government is imposing legislation allowing physician-assisted suicide.

Grasping for reasons why Canada is going down this path, Vincent said "People feel abandoned and that they do not matter anymore. The elders can feel that they do not matter."

Vincent suggested a more pragmatic reason for the drastic move to choose death over life.

"You crunch the numbers. Palliative care, good palliative care, can be expensive. So doctor-assisted suicide becomes expedient.

"It's not only money, but it (palliative care) is also a time commitment, she said.

Dr. Mary Ellen Haggerty wonders too what would happen to physicians who, acting on their moral beliefs, refuse to refer a patient who wants to be put to death. "Will we lose our licence if we refuse?"

Haggerty is also concerned with the breaking of the bond of trust between a patient and their physician when the patient realizes the physician could kill them.

What if an edict is issued that a physician must do all procedures or lose their licence?

Then physicians must bow to the legislation or else leave the practice of medicine.

"We do not want to leave our patients," said Haggerty.

Her fellow physicians also are concerned that making referrals is a way of assisting in the controversial procedure.


Haggerty suggested people supporting physician-assisted death fear losing their autonomy. "They are used to being in charge; they don't want to lose that control."

But if physician-assisted death goes through in its present form, "Patients stand to lose their doctors," said Haggerty.

When the Canadian Medical Association did a poll in 2014, 63 per cent of physicians said they did not want to help end a patient's life.

Dr. Randall Abele, a retired urologist and Catholic deacon, is one of the majority. "As a Catholic, I'm against the whole concept."

He wondered how they would teach medical students how to kill patients. "This is life and death stuff we are talking about!" he exclaimed.


A family medicine practitioner for 32 years, Dr. Joan Johnston "feels sick about it. Shades of Nazi Germany. History is repeating itself."

Baby boomers have rebelled against "surrendering their power," she said. As well, God is removed from the picture.

An executive member of Canada's St. Luke's Physicians Guild, Dr. Thomas Bouchard said he was "very pleased with the Alberta bishops' strong stance against euthanasia and assisted suicide."


The Calgary physician said, "Catholic physicians affirm with them that killing is not part of medicine.

"In this new landscape of legalizing the killing of vulnerable patients, Catholic and other like-minded physicians will remain committed to protecting patients and providing the best end-of-life care for everyone they encounter.

"Catholic physicians in Alberta stand faithfully beside their bishops in opposing euthanasia, and will not participate or facilitate it in any way."