Ottawa, Canada--In light of the Supreme Court of Canada's approaching deadline for a new law on assisted suicide, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada held a reception and talk last night at the Rideau Club in downtown Ottawa.
Dr. Ian Gentles presented about his latest book It’s Not That Simple: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Today. Dr. Gentles was joined by Faye Sonier, Executive Director of Canadian Physicians for Life and a lawyer who has spent years practicing constitutional and human rights law.
About 125 doctors, nurses, social workers, academics, Members of Parliament and their staff, Senate staff and interested citizens gathered to listen to Dr. Gentles present. He gave a sobering presentation about the realities that will face all Canadians when euthanasia and assisted suicide are the new reality.
The Supreme Court of Canada gave our government 12 months to enact a new law on assisted suicide, ending in February 2016.
Dr. Ian Gentles has a PhD from the University of London, teaches at York University and Tyndale University College and is also vice-president of the deVeber Institute for Bioethics.
Dr. Gentles explained how the Supreme Court engaged in tortured logic in order to conclude that the right to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to assisted suicide.
One of the more troubling aspects of the Supreme Court’s decision, he explained, was their reliance on popular opinion.
Most Canadians are favourably predisposed to the idea of assisted suicide. Yet, when they get more information, popular approval drops substantially. “I saw this happen at an event filled with educated people at the University of Toronto in summer 2015,” he recounted. “Initially, 51 percent of the audience said Canada was ready for physician-assisted suicide. After the event was over that 51 percent had fallen to a mere 28 percent.”
Support drops partly because other jurisdictions where physician-assisted suicide has been legal have seen abysmal outcomes. In the Netherlands, the categories of people eligible for assisted suicide have grown as support for palliative care has waned.
Family relationships are bound to be strained under legal physician-assisted suicide, said Dr. Gentles. He cited the example of a devastated son, whose mother was depressed and shopped around for a doctor to grant her suicide request in Belgium. He was not made aware until she was already deceased. In other Canadian examples, children have withheld treatment as part of their power of attorney, desiring speedier access to their inheritance.
Dr. Gentles concluded with the idea that great palliative care at the end of life circumvents the desire for physician-assisted suicide.
Under-reported by the press has been the opposition of Quebec’s palliative care community to providing physician-assisted suicide.
Since physicians are the front line in this debate, Faye Sonier spoke about the need to defend physician conscience rights. She highlighted a false dichotomy: Either a patient suffers horrific final days, or the patient “dies with dignity” through physician assisted suicide. Palliative care and palliative sedation are glossed over, if they are even addressed at all.
Another false dichotomy, Sonier explained, is the idea that patients either enjoy autonomy in their medical decision-making or physicians exercise their Charter right to conscientious objection. Sonier eloquently explained how, through creative solutions, both autonomy and conscience rights of the parties involved can be maintained and respected.
The Carter decision did not grant a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. Says Sonier: “In Carter, nothing in the court’s decision would compel doctors to administer assisted suicide.”
“No country or jurisdiction in the world that has legislated PAS, except for Quebec, has ever forced physicians to refer,” Sonier went on.
“Physician-assisted suicide marks the advent of a tough time for vulnerable Canadians,” said Andrea Mrozek, Executive Director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. “Ultimately, we all become more vulnerable as we age.”
Solutions include the need for physician conscience rights to be respected, the need for disability-rights activists to be heard, the need for palliative care access to increase, and the need for more thoughtful debate to be had.
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For more information visit www.imfcanada.org or contact Andrea Mrozek at 613-565-3832.