Once new rules on assisted dying come into effect in Canada, it is envisaged that we will be able to make the choice between palliative care and euthanasia for ourselves. However, it has been shown that in jurisdictions where euthanasia is permitted (Holland, Belgium, California, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington), it leaves the door open to abuse. This may be from family members, caregivers, and members of the medical profession.
I’ve become concerned at the headlong rush by Canada to permit euthanasia, particularly concerning repercussions for our elderly population. But with euthanasia, everyone is vulnerable, especially those living in poverty, those without family or friends they can trust, battling addictions of any kind, or with disabilities, including depression and other mental health issues.
The situation in Europe indicates that the slippery slope is the reality. In spite of strong medical guidelines, Holland’s physicians admitted to killing 1040 patients without their knowledge or consent from 1981 to 91. (Remmelink Report 1991)
In Belgium, a study published in 2010 found that 32 per cent of the euthanasia deaths in Flanders region of Belgium were done without request or consent. (Canadian Medical Assn. Journal May 17, 2010)
Palliative care began in Canada in 1975, when units were opened in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital and Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. One of the first leaders of the hospice movement was Dr. Balfour Mount of Royal Victoria, who described it in this way:
“Several features characterize hospice care…There is concern for the family and other loved ones as well as the patient: the fears and doubts of all involved, the strain on relationships, financial resources, and spiritual care needs are all considered in addition to the more traditional relating to the disease itself. There is a relaxation of institutional regulations concerning visitors, food, pets, and other details of daily life.
“When the length of remaining life is recognized as lying outside the influence of further treatment, the focus is not on death, but on each day’s quality of life, and on living in the moment.”
In 2011, under the government of Stephen Harper, the all-party report Not to be Forgotten was published and examined issues related to palliative care, suicide prevention, and elder abuse. The report by the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care makes clear, safe recommendations for improving care for all Canadians. Canada needs to implement these and reject the rush to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
If Canada decriminalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide, Canada’s court system must be responsible for handling each court case requesting euthanasia on a case-by-case basis.
The medical profession must be called upon to give factual evidence as to need and suffering of each individual, thereby protecting all patients, including the most vulnerable in our society.
President of the CGRA Member