Stand up for your physician's conscience

Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

March 7, 2016

We depend on them. We usually only turn to them in times of trouble. Too often, we don't say "Thank you." These are the men and women who serve as physicians.

To become a doctor takes time, study, a sound working ethical philosophy, compassion and hard, slogging work.

Canada is blessed with medicare (thank you Tommy Douglas). Certainly there are glitches. Mistakes are made. But the foundation is there.

Sometimes physicians go to the United States to ply their science. But many times these same doctors pack their stethoscopes and return to Canada. While they are in the U.S., they have to deal with the lack of medicare or with the stringent guidelines of HMOs (health maintenance organizations).

These physicians are the ones who realize and practise the art of medicine.

My physician comes from Dublin, Ireland. He is Catholic. I was getting my flu shot and asked him if he was thinking of retiring. "No, no, no," he said.

Mollified, I went on with my real worry. So I asked "What would you do if the physician-assisted suicide bill goes through?"

His face flushed and he looked away. "I don't know. I'll just wait and see what happens."

Anger surged through me. Why should he or any other health care professional be going through this dilemma?

Why are physicians and other medical staff being forced to abandon their life ethics?

As well, the provision that they just have to refer another medical provider who will administer the killing medication does not wash.

That referral to someone who will help a patient end their life makes the life practitioner morally complicit. This is so wrong.

Being a physician is hard enough. Given our volatile society, patients usually bring psychological problems along with their physical ailments into the doctor's office.

Add whatever is going on in their personal lives, and it becomes a heavy cross to bear. What will happen when they are forced to practise death instead of medicine that supports life?

Will they move? Will they do something else with their talents? Will they take early retirement?

All of these changes mean society is wasting its medical expertise. Society is also letting its physicians and other medical staff down. They did not sign on to become a physician who assists their patients to die.

BATTLERS FOR LIFE

These men and women have at times fought for people's lives, battled disease and sought out the right specialist. They have been there.

Now it is time for us to be there for them. Write your MP. Write and/or call the prime minister. Write the minister of health too.

The federal health minister is Jane Philpott. She is a Mennonite and a family physician who has won a plethora of awards for her compassion. This is a physician who, before her election, fought for full medical rights for refugees.

Given her history, surely Philpott will hear the cry of her fellow physicians.

Locally, Dr. Joan Johnston, an Edmonton family physician for 32 years, wrote an impassioned letter to Philpott.

In her missive, Johnston took up the cause of palliative care specialists, most of whom are refusing to be involved in euthanasia.

"It will simply become more economically viable to kill our terminally ill, our elderly and our disabled than to provide them with excellent care," she wrote.

SUBTLE OR OVERT PRESSURES

"If people want to stay alive until their natural death, they may very well be required to pay for the care for themselves, which will place enormous hardship on them and their families. This, in turn, will create subtle or overt pressures on people to 'choose death.'"

Now is the time when we must speak out. That also means calling or writing one's MLA and Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

As Christians, we are not supposed to be afraid of death. Yes, we do have legal control over what should and could be done at our time of dying. It is called a medical directive.

Add the overriding legislation of physician-assisted death and yes, I and others will be more than afraid of the process of dying than of death itself.

Should you want any more reasons for speaking out, take a look at the European countries that have embraced this procedure. Bone-chilling.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)