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uOttawa Students For Life: Lessons from the Swiss Experience

This post was written for uOttawa Students For Life by uOttawa Students For Life. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

by Dante De Luca
Every so often, we at uOSFL invite a speaker to come share with us their experiences in the pro-life movement. Such speakers have included Stephanie Grey, Andrea Mrozek, Vicky Green, MP Maurice Velacott, Dr. Rene Leiva, and many others. There is one man, however, whom we have wanted to have as a speaker but have never been able to get hold of. That man is Dr. José Pereira.

Dr. Pereira is a professor at the University of Ottawa and head of the palliative care program at Bruyère Continuing Care and the Ottawa Hospital. You can read more about him here. And now you can go hear him speak, courtesy of the Ethics in Medicine club.

Dr Pereira will be giving a lecture, entitled Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from the Swiss Experience, on Thursday, January 13, 2011 from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm in RGN 3248 (Amph D). I encourage you all to go listen to what he has to say since this promises to be an event well worth attending.

 


Read the comments at the uOttawa Students For Life website.

No matter how the story’s spun, killing is not love

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director

The headline of the CBC article jumped out at me this morning, bringing with it many memories and a good deal of anger.  I was only 6 when Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy, who was 12 years old at the time.  I recall my mother’s fury and the letter-writing campaign she helped organize to inform politicians of the significance of this issue.  When I was a bit older and Latimer was appealing his sentence at the Supreme Court, I joined her efforts.  The leniency shown towards Latimer angered me then, and angers me now.  Yet what concerns me even more is the absence of condemnation of his actions on the part of the general public.

Consider the reaction to the murder of Karissa Boudreau, strangled to death by her own mother Penny.  Public outrage was enormous and the judge who ruled on the case told Penny, “You can never call yourself mother.”

Yet, if you read the comments posted on today’s article with news of Latimer’s full parole, you will see an entirely different reaction: Latimer is welcomed back, called a hero, and even suggested as a Member of Parliament because of his ‘integrity’.  It seems to me that the only thing more horrific than a father killing his daughter and calling it “love” is having the general public sympathize and support that father.

Growing up, I knew a young man with cerebral palsy.  The doctors said he would never walk or communicate.  Well, he proved those doctors wrong.  Life was difficult for his family and for him, yet his value was no less.  And as we grew up with him at school, we were taught that love meant sacrificing a bit of ourselves.  We took turns spending lunch hours with him.  We started learning sign language to better communicate with him.  Eventually the rest of the class moved ahead in grades, we moved into a different wing of the school and eventually to a different school.  But I don’t think we’ll ever forget our time with him, the wide smiles he gave us and the laughter that we shared.  He enriched our lives and made us better people.

I don’t doubt that life was difficult for Tracy and difficult for her parents, who struggled to see her suffer.  But how do we measure and quantify suffering?  Tracy was described as a generally cheerful girl who loved music and visits to the circus.  I’ve known people – with no physical pain – whose suffering was so deep they could not even smile.  Yet their right to life was never questioned.  So why is it that shooting a severely depressed teenage daughter, for example, would outrage the public while gassing Tracy, a cheerful 12 year old with cerebral palsy, is considered compassionate?

Tracy did not have the same capabilities as many of us.  She lived her life differently and was quite vulnerable, vulnerability her father took advantage of.  Her dependence and her simple mental state do not give us, however, any special right to determine her life’s value and whether or not we will care for her or kill her.

The reality is that love involves sacrifice and it means suffering alongside those we love.  And no matter how we spin the story, it never means killing.

For more background, see the Lifesitenews article here.

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Youth Protecting Youth: Compassion and Choices

This post was written for Youth Protecting Youth by ypyinfoofficer. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Compassion and Choices is an American organization dedicated to improving care and expanding choice at the end of life.

Dying with Dignity is a similar organization based in Canada, and is dedicated to improving the quality of dying and to expanding end of life choices in Canada. They declare themselves to be “Canadians’ voice for choice at the end of life.”

Better care, increased choices, and dying a dignified death – these are things we all want in our old age. But words can be misleading. Both of these organizations maintain that end of life choices must include physician assisted suicide (PAS), an option they define as a “compassionate choice”.

But what does true compassion entail? Is PAS really a compassionate choice that upholds a person’s dignity?

In April 2010, 74% of the Canadian Parliament voted against legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide. Soon after the vote, the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PCPCC) was created, a committee that is “dedicated to promoting awareness of, fostering substantive research and constructive dialogue on palliative and compassionate care in Canada.”

This past Tuesday, November 9th, the committee held a hearing in Victoria which featured multiple presenters speaking on elder abuse and the need to change our current medical framework to provide better care for the elderly. All the speakers had a passion for building a better health care system to support our aging population.

One of the most pressing questions to be answered was: should this system include euthanasia or physician assisted suicide (PAS)? Many speakers saw a potential need for PAS, but “not yet”: we must first build a better palliative care system, and then assess the need for PAS down the road. We must note the difference between euthanasia and PAS. Euthanasia is defined as when one person, usually a medical professional, directly and intentionally ends the life of individual. Assisted suicide is defined as the aiding, abating, or encouraging by an individual to another individual such that the victim is able to end their own life.

According to Wanda Morris, a spokesperson for Dying with Dignity, compassionate care must include PAS, and ensuring this choice is available is the fundamental principle in providing a person with a dignified death.  Let us look to see what this compassionate choice really involves before we succumb to this deceptive use of “choice” and “compassion”.

Organizations that advocate for legalizing PAS state that end of life decisions are a matter of autonomy, and “the only way that every person can be assured of [their] dignity is through legally protected choice.” But our autonomy and dignity is not solely dependent on our ability to make choices. If this were the case, then any request to die would have to be respected, including ones from people who are close to death, and ones based on momentary feelings or clinical depression. Therefore those who are not terminally ill would have to be allowed to choose to die. What then would stop a teenager from making the legally protected choice to have assistance in ending their life when they are depressed after a bad break up? Would we call it compassion that allowed that individual to be killed and not counselled? 

If such actions are justified merely because one must be allowed to exercise their autonomy in making a choice, who then will have the authority to draw the line and say that some choices are wrong? Under the illusion of “choice” we would be creating a society that legally allows individuals to harm themselves or other human beings.

And does the power to make these choices reside solely with the patient, or will outside influences affect the decision made? Whether intentionally or subconsciously, pressure may be placed on those who are ill, disabled, or elderly, influencing their choice on whether or not to further burden their family or health care system. Studies reveal that where euthanasia and PAS are legal there have been abuses, and people have not been cared for appropriately.

A recent study [i]regarding euthanasia practice in Belgium found that 66 of 208 euthanasia deaths were performed without explicit request or consent. Is this compassionate? None of these people had a choice in their premature death.

In Oregon in 2007, 49 people[ii] were reported to have died by assisted suicide. None of these people were offered a psychological or psychiatric assessment. Furthermore, a study[iii] published in October 2008 showed that 26% of people requesting assisted suicide were depressed or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. Is society showing these people compassion by allowing them complete access to death, or would it be more compassionate to give them life-affirming options that reveal their dignity is not dependant solely on their choices?

One of the principal precepts of medical ethics is, first, do no harm.” The majority of society adheres to this principle, and agrees that intentionally killing is wrong. But when the killing is disguised with terms such as “choice”, “dignity”, and even “compassion,” people lose sight of the tragic reality of the deed being done.  True autonomy is an essential component of human dignity, but it does not include the freedom to do harm.

Dignity can only be affirmed, realized, and answered through true compassion. This compassion recognizes and instils the beauty and inherent value of life in those who have forgotten it, or who have been otherwise convinced that their lives no longer possess it. True compassion must include better palliative care for the dying; this is something all the speakers wanted, as do Canadians.

In a recent Environics group survey[iv] , 71% of the respondents stated that the government needs to place a greater priority on improving palliative care rather than legalizing euthanasia. In addition the study found that support of legalized euthanasia is decreasing.  63% of the respondents were afraid that the elderly would feel pressured into being euthanized in order to avoid health care costs, and 78% were afraid that individuals would be euthanized without giving their consent.  As we can see by the studies in Belgium, these abuses can easily turn into a reality.

Is physician assisted suicide a compassionate choice? I would conclude that it is not. We must not get caught up in the euphemistic terms of “choice” and “compassion”. People who kill themselves or have others do so in order to gain a “dignified” death have in fact lost their sense of dignity and self worth. The dignity of a human being is not dependent on our state of pain or level of ability. Dignity is something that is inherent to all people, and the only way to affirm it is not to kill the sufferer, but rather to support and protect the individual by providing life-giving, compassionate choices, and doing our best to alleviate their suffering. A society that kills the most vulnerable in our society, the frail, suffering, and lonely, effectively confirms these people’s thoughts that their life is no longer worth living; such a society shows itself to be uncompassionate.


[i] Kenneth, C., et al (2010). Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium: a population-based survey. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 182 (9).

[ii] Oregon`s Death with Dignity Act- 2007. Death with Dignity Act. http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pas/docs/year10.pdf

[iii] BMJ-British Medical Journal (2008). Assisted Suicide Laws May Overlook Depressed Patients. ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/10/081007192534.htm

[iv] Environics group (2010). Canadians’ Attitudes Towards Euthanasia.  http://www.lifecanada.org/html/resources/polling/2010_Environics_Report-Euthanasia_Eng.pdf


Read the comments at the Youth Protecting Youth website.

New Poll: Canadians worry about vulnerable people if euthanasia is legalized

Life Canada, a national educational organization, has released a new poll of Canadians’ attitudes concerning euthanasia.

Below, their Press Release summarizes their findings.

For Immediate Release

Nov. 3, 2010


Canadians worry about vulnerable people if euthanasia is legalized: Poll

A year of public debate about legal euthanasia has left Canadians with concerns about how vulnerable people—those who are elderly, depressed, disabled or chronically ill—will fare if the law changes.

A new poll by Environics Research of 2,025 Canadians has found that although 59% said they support legal euthanasia, the number who “strongly support” has declined by 3 points since last year. Support is highest in Quebec at 69%, down from 75% a year ago, and lowest in Manitoba and Saskatchewan at 49%.

However, subsequent questions about the effect on vulnerable populations reveal strong concerns about the practice. Almost two-thirds, 63% worried that elderly Canadians would feel pressure to accept euthanasia to reduce health care costs, up from 57% in 2009. Interestingly, Quebeckers, whose government recently completed public hearings on legal euthanasia, expressed the highest concern, 75%. Canadians also worried about people being euthanized without their consent: 78% expressed concern about this, compared to 70% last year.

The poll also asked about euthanizing terminally ill or severely disabled infants with a parental request and consent. Almost half, 49% opposed euthanasia in such cases while 44% supported it.

71% of those polled said governments should invest more in palliative and hospice care instead of legalizing euthanasia.

The poll was commissioned by LifeCanada and was conducted in September 2010. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

LifeCanada’s president, Monica Roddis, said that the current debate has been a healthy one. “Canadians have been confused about euthanasia and what it means. The more they learn through debates at the federal level and this fall during the Quebec hearings, the less comfortable they become.

“There have been many doctors and nurses who specialize in end-of-life care who have spoken openly and passionately against legalizing euthanasia,” said Roddis. “They understand the perils that face patients and medical professionals if such legislation were to pass. We applaud their courage in speaking up and in contributing to the education of Canadians on this issue.”

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Contacts: Primary: Monica Roddis, President, 604-853-7985

Secondary: Anastasia Bowles, Projects Director: 1-866-780-5433

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