TORONTO — It has sped through Canada like a runaway train, set to leave in its path a near-complete dislocation of morality from medicine. Once in place, legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia will destroy life, bring back the ethos of Nazi Germany, in which human dignity is subsumed by one’s usefulness, and strip doctors of their conscience rights and turn them into opinion-less expeditors of death.
The reach of this dark movement has spread so thoroughly that the media and the public refers to this form of murder as “medical aid in dying” and “death with dignity:” two bland expressions meant to put a happy face on evil.
“This is not a matter of ‘medical assistance in dying,’” the Catholic bishops of Alberta said in a March 3 statement. “What is at issue here is state-sponsored killing of the innocent. Killing is not medicine. This has no place in a just and ethical society.”
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are two different ways of killing patients. With assisted suicide, patients are given fatal drugs to take home and ingest when they are ready. Euthanasia takes place when physicians actively kill their patients with a hypodermic needle. In Canada, we have started to use the terms interchangeably, as the end result is the same: killing.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa said the Church might take the radical step of refusing to anoint those who choose to take their own lives.
“The rite is for people who are gravely ill or labor under the burden of years, and it contains the forgiveness of sins as part of the rite, in either form. But we cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do — like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin,” he told Canadian Catholic News.
State-sanctioned killing will be legal in this country by June. Only a miracle can stop it. It has barely been debated. Even in last fall’s national election, won by the pro-euthanasia Liberal Party, the issue was barely mentioned.
Politicians from all parties have been aware that opposing assisted suicide would more than likely cost them votes than garner support.
An Angus Reid Forum poll in 2015 found 37% of Canadians approved of assisted suicide, while 42% expressed moderate approval; perhaps not that surprising, in a country where secularism and atheism dominate the culture. More disturbingly, the poll found 70% of Canadian Catholics either strongly approved or moderately approved of doctor-assisted suicide.
The Legal and Political Landscape
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of February 2015 to remove all restrictions on state-sanctioned suicide, coupled with a just-released list of recommendations by a parliamentary panel that was charged with creating a “safe” assisted-suicide law, would see those with psychiatric problems, chronic pain, as well as the dying, gain easy access to assisted suicide.
It is not known how many of these recommendations will make it into law, but most of what has been suggested is consistent with what the Supreme Court has demanded of Canadian Parliament last year.
The panel also said doctors could suggest, but not demand, that their patients try some form of alternative non-lethal treatment before taking their lives. It warned that Catholic hospitals could lose their public funding if they refuse to comply with death requests.
“Many see physicians with a conscientious objection to procedures like euthanasia as selfishly wanting to protect themselves,” Dr. Thomas Bouchard, a family physician in Calgary, Alberta, and president of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, said in an interview. “In reality, these physicians who object to killing their patients object because they do not feel this is good medical care, and thereby do this out of care for their patients. These physicians see euthanasia and assisted suicide as the ultimate abandonment of patients and would rather accompany them with medication and compassion to a natural, dignified death.”
Following Quebec’s Lead
It was only in 2010 that a bill that would have allowed for assisted suicide was defeated in Parliament by a vote of 228 to 59, enough of a rout to assume the issue had been settled for at least the foreseeable future.
Yet, at the same time the province of Quebec — by far the most Catholic component of Canada, nominally at least — began examining how it could make the practice legal within its own boundaries. The provincial government decided the best way was to promote the fiction that it had the power to unilaterally take the ban out of Canada’s Criminal Code. Canada has only one Criminal Code, and it applies to the entire country. Quebec used sleight of hand to declare that, for its residents, euthanasia was now a health-care issue, something controlled by the province.
In June 2014, members of the Quebec National Assembly voted to make so-called “end-of-life care” legal. The then-Conservative government of Stephen Harper made no public objections. Quebec said it would take its time to develop a “killing protocol.”
By February 2015, any objections to Quebec’s rush to allow physicians to kill their patients became moot. The Supreme Court voted, by a unanimous 9 to 0, to revoke any bans in the Criminal Code and ordered Parliament to create a new law in the spirit of its decision.
Even still, the enthusiasm for allowing to Quebec to proceed, despite the fact that the Criminal Code has not yet changed, has been alarming. The first death, in December of last year, was met by rousing support from the provincial and the federal governments.
Gaétan Barrette, Quebec’s health minister, told CBC radio the death was a sign that things are going well, and there were no systematic obstacles, despite the reluctance of some Quebec doctors.
Ten people have now died under Quebec’s law, the CBC has reported.
‘Mature Minors’ Provision
Then a few weeks ago, a parliamentary committee came out with suggestions that shocked even those who had been supporters of assisted suicide and euthanasia, or at least not condemned it outright. Like most Canadians, they believed that this recourse would only be used rarely and only for those in excruciating pain on death’s door. The examples of the Netherlands and Belgium, where it has become merely another medical procedure and thousands die each year for myriad reasons, were dismissed as fearmongering.
One horrifying recommendation has called for “mature minors,” those as young as 12, to be eligible for “medical assistance in dying” three years after the new law is passed.
Andrew Coyne, the esteemed political columnist for the National Post, has consistently raised questions about the wisdom of legalized assisted suicide. His reaction to the recommendations summed up the reckless path Canada has chosen.
“So it is that assisted suicide has gone … from a crime, to something to be tolerated in exceptional circumstances, to a public service,” wrote Coyne. “Perhaps you see this as progress. But I cannot help but feel that a society that can contemplate putting children to death has somehow lost its way.”
Loss of Conscience Rights
Physicians, under the recent recommendations, would not be obligated to kill their patients — but they would be compelled to refer them to someone who will. This loss of conscience, coupled with the loss of the simple act of giving advice, will change medicine in Canada into something alien and frightening, observers predict.
“The question of referral shows that the committee reporting to the government has a diminished ides of conscience,” said Dr. Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Centre in Toronto. “Doctors who think certain actions are wrong think they are wrong in every case, and therefore cannot simply ask someone else to perform an action they would not do themselves. If it is wrong for me to steal my mother’s purse, I think it’s just as wrong for someone else to do it.”
The great tragedy that has befallen Canada is made far worse by a critical lack of palliative-care spaces. Only about 30% of the Canadians who need palliative care can find it today. Six years ago, a report on the woeful state of palliative care warned that without many more spaces made available, there would be increased interest in assisted suicide and euthanasia. It said many Canadians were worried about becoming a burden to their families.
Said Dr. Bouchard of Calgary, “The downstream effects of ‘death on demand’ in Canada will lead to subtle coercive forces leading people down this road — there will be financial pressures, caregiver burnout, health-care cost implications, which will lead people to feel that this is their only option.”
Register correspondent Charles Lewis writes from Toronto.
For seven years he reported on religion and ethics for Canada’s National Post newspaper.