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uOttawa Students For Life: End of Life or Ending Life?

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

Check out this article on assisted suicide in the University of Ottawa’s English-language student newspaper, The Fulcrum: http://thefulcrum.ca/2011/11/assisting-the-suicidal/

Assisted suicide conveys a brutal message as to who our society really cares about. It tells the elderly, the weak, and those in pain that we are unwilling to foster their well being. Instead, we propose an easy alternative: Death. Easy for the rest of us, at least.

Read the comments at the uOttawa Students For Life website.

Petition to the Attorney General: Carter v. Canada

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is collecting petitions in regards to the upcoming court case that seeks to reject Canada’s protections against assisted suicide.

For more information on the Carter case and the threat is poses, please see the following article written by Will Johnston, MD, Margaret Dore, JD, and Alex Schadenberg.

From the EPC’s website:

Last year, Canada’s parliament rejected Bill C-384, a bill to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, by a vote of 228 to 59. After losing the political battle, the suicide lobby is bringing their demand for legalized killing to the courts.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has challenged the Attorney General of Canada to discard Canada’s protections from euthanasia and assisted suicide. In Carter v. Canada, the BCCLA has asked the court to legalize “the administration of medication or other treatment that intentionally brings about a patient’s death by the act of a medical practitioner.” If accepted by the courts, this definition would clearly legalize euthanasia.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition provides this petition to enable all people in Canada to speak out in opposition to the attempt to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide through the courts. We strongly encourage you to print this petition (both sides) and have it signed by friends, family and members of your community.

To print the petition (in English or French) or sign it online, please click here to visit their website.


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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.

University of Toronto Students for Life: “A Society Where Moral Values Differ”

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by gianna marks. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

I don’t know about you, but the prospect of people not only claiming, but rejoicing in a society where people’s “fundamental moral principles differ” scares me. And yet sadly that is the very society we seem to live in. Let us for now dismiss all the other current issues and focus on the most important one at hand: the sanctity of life itself is being questioned, with no sense of distortion.

On October 19th, 2010 in Great Britain, several politicians gathered together to debate the topic of Assisted Suicide at the Royal Geographical Society (covered by www.intelligencesquared.com)

The debate was called for by a multiple sclerosis patient Debby Purdy, opting for a change in law. The debate covers a wide array of thoughts circulating the topic of assisted suicide, such as: prosecutions of British citizens flying patients over the border to Switzerland to have assisted suicide done legally; the fact that suicide was officially legalized in 1961 but assisted suicide remained illegal; and the vague cut-off as to how vulnerable a patient has to be in order to allow assisted suicide (hours to live, days, weeks, months?).

The debate began with politician Emily Jackson, who stated:

The existence of legalized assisted dying provides reassurance to people. It in fact appears to enhance their ability to tolerate the present burdens of treatment. It is the prospect of being able to maintain control and autonomy at the end of life…

She claims that research supports this, and I cannot  doubt that this is probably true. But I do not see how knowing you can die a peaceful death whenever you want gives you the ability to tolerate a treatment. Medical  treatment is focussed on extending your life. You would more likely decide not to start or complete the treatment if you had the option of a way out. Death provides no reassurance to endure anything, it rather provides temptation to endure nothing; to escape everything.

What Emily is stressing however is probably that legalized assisted suicide will give people a sense of autonomy, a sense of choice (does this ring a bell?). I am a firm believer in free choice, freedom of the human person and their ability to make decisions. But of course, if a man is intent on killing my mother, I WILL do whatever it takes to stop him, and will by no means hold myself back on the basis of “choice”. Looking at human experience, it is clear that we DO in fact have a common morality.

Emily continues, saying:

In a liberal society, where we accept that people’s fundamental moral values differ, we should strive to ensure that people…can coexist without any of us forcing our moral values upon anyone else. So I would not enforce assisted death on them, but THEY would  force me to endure a death that I find intolerable.

Now there a several things wrong with her argument. First of all, a society founded on Liberalism, is generally characterized by equal rights and equal voice of all the people. A 19th century philosopher Thomas Green developed the term positive liberty  on which many societies still stand. This form of liberty views society “as an organic whole in which all individuals have a duty to promote the common good”. I don’t know about you, but “relative morality”and the “common good” do not seem to be the same thing.

Also, her argument which states by not legalizing assisted suicide the government imposes its morality on vulnerable patients is a counter-argument, for in saying that we should not impose morality on one another, she is herself imposing morality upon us (I will not even go into the absurdity that “life” has become a moral construct and not a right).

 But please do not only listen to my comments, I really encourage you all to listen to this debate, as it provides insight into the opponents way of thinking. It allows us to understand better the minds of the patients who wish for this “peaceful death”. Towards the end, Patrick Stone, on the opposing side, makes a very reasonable claim:

What would be gained by legalizing assisted suicide for those patients would be a small amount of extra autonomy to choose the hour and the day in which they die. But is that sufficient justification to expose large numbers of vulnerable patients to increased risk?

Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.