February 22, 2016

As they draft new laws on assisted suicide or euthanasia, our governments must proceed cautiously and adopt laws that are as restrictive as possible, to protect the most vulnerable.

This is not just a religious issue. Concerns about the serious implications of legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia come from many sources including former supporters of legalization, newspaper columnists and editors, palliative care physicians (who want nothing to do with killing their patients), psychiatrists (who fear becoming "suicide enablers" when there is a chance for treatment), and anesthesiologists (who warn that hastened death does not always result in a peaceful exit but comes with its own set of possible complications: convulsions, regurgitating the lethal drugs, "reawakening" after swallowing drugs or taking longer than expected to die).

There are growing calls for a better alternative - quality palliative care, which reduces pressure on acute and long-term health care settings, and improves quality of life for patients and their families.

There is an urgent need for Parliament to act on the motion passed in 2014 for a pan-Canadian palliative and end-of-life care strategy.

Freedom of conscience for individuals and health care institutions must also be protected, so that no one feels pressured into killing patients against their will and better judgment.

With laws that are as restrictive as possible, with conscience rights, and with quality palliative care, almost all requests for a lethal injection (euthanasia) or to get a prescription for a lethal dose of medication (assisted suicide) would likely disappear, and our country could preserve its social heritage of caring.

Therese Jelinski