Medical professionals may find themselves on a slippery slope that leads them to participate in euthanasia if the practice is legalized, say opponents of euthanasia.

PHOTO | DAVID.JONES@LIVE.CA

Medical professionals may find themselves on a slippery slope that leads them to participate in euthanasia if the practice is legalized, say opponents of euthanasia.

November 3, 2014
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

An orthopedic surgeon who observed the Supreme Court of Canada hearing on assisted suicide Oct. 15 described the experience as "surrealistic."

A lawyer called it an exercise in "creating bylaws for the culture of death." Another lawyer warned of a "body count" if the ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia is removed.

Some interventions were "extreme," said Dr. Marc Beauchamp, who practises medicine in Montreal and is a member of the Quebec-based Physicians' Alliance Against Euthanasia, one of the interveners in the Carter case.

Some were advocating that "everyone should get a constitutional right to die at any time," he said.

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), said the day of hearings was summed up by the lawyer for the Quebec doctors who said, "We're talking about not merely a striking down of a law; we're talking about the constitutional right to killing."

If that is allowed by Canada's Supreme Court, it would be "a remarkable development," Horgan said.

Hugh Scher, lawyer for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the issue should be dealt with by Parliament, not in the courts.

"Parliament has had 25 to 30 years through complex and comprehensive Senate committees, and parliamentary committees," he said.

Based on that work, legislators have consistently concluded that "an absolute ban is the only means to preserve life and protect the vulnerable from the risk of abuse," Scher said.

An absolute ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia is the norm in every country in the world except for seven nations, he observed.

Canada's Parliament and its courts have upheld constitutional protections that safeguard the lives of people with disabilities and others who are vulnerable to abuse, he said.

As Justice John Sopinka pointed out in the 1993 Rodriguez decision on assisted suicide, "there is no halfway measure that could be put in place to protect the vulnerable," Scher said.

If that protection is removed, "what we're dealing with at that point is a body count," said Scher.

Hugh Scher, lawyer for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said legislators have consistently favoured an absolute ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG

Hugh Scher, lawyer for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said legislators have consistently favoured an absolute ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

"How many dead people is society prepared to tolerate in order to address the demands of a few for assistance in suicide?"

Horgan asked whether the Supreme Court hearing was not an attempt to develop bylaws for the culture of death.

"That was our engagement today. We were engaging the right to death, the right to time my death, the right to determine the prematurity of my death and who else I am going to be allowed to ask to be involved in my death."

CULTURE OF DEATH

Horgan noted St. John Paul II coined the phrase "culture of death."

"I guess all we can say, is St. John Paul II, pray for us," he said.

Horgan highlighted the positive contribution of the lawyer for the Quebec Physicians' Alliance, "who gave an impassioned plea for the importance of the right to life."

As well, he added, the counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada asked the court to consider where these arguments will go.

Could prisoners request euthanasia, and thus capital punishment will be introduced through the back door?

The CCRL's joint-intervention with The Conscience Project "talked about the impact of that slippery slope on medical professionals," he continued.

IMPACT ON PROVIDERS

"What about that nurse, the nursing home person, hospice care provider? The impacts of this are remarkable."

Beauchamp called the situation "surrealistic" when the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's intervention asked that people have the right to ask a doctor to "provide me with death" even though they are not sick.

That is "so far from the definition, the real international definition of medicine," said the Quebec surgeon.

Beauchamp said he found it interesting to see the differing points of view. "Everyone there was concerned about Canadian citizens' suffering," he said. Two perceptions were "fighting against" each other.

One was to provide death as a solution to suffering; the other was the promote relief to suffering without causing death, he said.

"We did not see much emphasis on help for people who are suffering," he said. "That was the weak part of the day.

"That's the core of our concern, we want to improve the care, we want people to feel that they are the object of compassion and attention," he said.

"People are looking for a way to live better, to die better as well, and to keep their sense of importance all along until the end."

The improvement of care was not "obvious" during the hearing because "people were so focused" on opening up questions such as "why not kill patients? Why not commit suicide," he said.

If people from a different society ended up in the room without having been briefed, they would have concluded, "these people are crazy because they are just trying to find ways to help people commit suicide or for other people to kill other people."