National Campus Life Network > Blog > Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide

University of Toronto Students for Life: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”

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

How can a country fight to prevent suicide with one hand and endorse it with the other? That is the question facing Canadians after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision striking down the total ban on physician assisted suicide. This decision comes on the heels of a concurrent shift in public support for just such a decision. This growing support for legalized euthanasia is somewhat surprising, however, in that it comes at a time during which the public is becoming increasingly sensitive towards addressing and combatting the underlying triggers for suicide in other contexts. North American society as a whole has taken important strides towards removing the stigma associated with abuse, depression and mental illness, with the aim to provide compassionate avenues out of these distressing circumstances to those who see no other option than to take their own lives. We rightfully lament suicides as tragedies and vow to change our culture so as to reach out to individuals facing the same despair and hopelessness.

And yet what is the response when those seeking a way out of their suffering are the aged, the disabled, the terminally ill? Not a rousing endorsement of a palliative care revolution, providing quality pain relief and compassionate care to the suffering. Nor is it an army of friends or volunteers looking to provide comfort, empathy and a reversal of spirits for those whose anguish is magnified by isolation and a feeling of abandonment. Instead we suggest that the most merciful approach is to help them pull the metaphorical trigger; to remove the sufferer, rather than the suffering.

There are many possible reasons for this differential approach, and I hesitate to postulate on the most likely cause. What is clear, though, is that a certain cognitive dissonance is present in our attitudes towards the dignity of the human person, treating some deaths as tragedies and others as acts of mercy.

From a policy standpoint, these incongruous attitudes can interplay in two main ways. On the one hand, the cognitive dissonance can be maintained, remaining unexamined and under the radar. In such a case, the interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling can remain strict and narrow. From a pragmatic standpoint this could be seen as a (relatively) positive outcome for opponents of euthanasia in that it will keep the number of cases low. However, looking beneath the surface of such a policy one can find very troubling philosophical implications. In this circumstance, the underlying logic is that people become arbiters of the value of individual human lives, something which is incompatible with the ideals of liberal democracy but which is an attitude that has become increasingly prevalent in recent decades. In setting up a framework for the application of euthanasia, politicians, physicians, family members and citizens make decisions over what deaths are acceptable to expedite and which ones are not. They thus send a clear message to those individuals not fortunate enough to receive support and compassion which targets their symptoms that their state of life is one not worth ameliorating, but rather extinguishing.

The other possibility is that we will slowly begin to reject the arbitrariness of such an approach and simply do away with euthanasia regulations. Invoking such slippery-slope argument is often ridiculed as specious. However, in the context of legalized euthanasia, it is an argument which is vindicated by precedent. In Belgium, the legal right to assisted suicide has been extended to children. In the Netherlands, euthanasia has become an established medical option which is in many cases applied without explicit consent from patients. It is entirely plausible that such a similar erosion of regulation can occur in Canada, not simply because of a pattern but due to the underlying value shift that accompanies such a profound social and political decision. Once a society clears the moral hurdle associated with legitimizing and normalizing euthanasia, it becomes increasingly difficult to regulate the practice because any efforts to do so become arbitrary. If it becomes acceptable to sanction and facilitate the taking of a human life on request, how can any third party have the moral authority to serve as an arbiter of when such a request should or should not be honoured?

None of this is to suggest that euthanasia is only to be avoided because of the difficulties surrounding its implementation. While such a consequentialist argument plays an important part in creating an informed public debate on the issue, the pro-life movement’s opposition to physician assisted suicide does not hinge on any specific regulatory dilemmas. As has already been explored in a previous paragraph, the legalization of euthanasia is ethically objectionable regardless of how strict or loose the regulatory framework is, because in either case the inviolable sanctity of human life is being undermined.

The only ethical solution to this dilemma is to maintain an unwavering opposition to the devaluation of human life in whatever form it takes. This may not be easy or politically palatable, but such has been true of many of the most important social justice movements of our history. In short, the solution to suicide is not to help someone pull the trigger. The solution is to take the gun away, and in its place put a hand of solidarity, love and compassion.

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

University of Toronto Students for Life: Euthanasia and Society’s Most Vulnerable Members

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

A recent editorial in the Toronto Star provides a critical examination of the dangers associated with the legalization of euthanasia. It was written by Dr. Heidi Janz, a professor at the University of Alberta who has a physical disability, in response to a bill introduced by Canadian Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher which seeks to decriminalize assisted suicide. In the editorial, Dr. Janz discusses her fears around how legalizing euthanasia would increase “the social vulnerability of every single disabled and elderly Canadian” by legitimizing the belief that death is preferable to certain life conditions, however limited they may be by illness or injury. She notes how this attitude is offensive to the dignity of individuals with disabilities, and also provides a real risk to such individuals in that the preservation of their life may not be appropriately prioritized, either by medical professionals or society as a whole.

What was most striking for me about this article was its implicit yet powerful repudiation of the argument that euthanasia is a strictly private, personal matter, and as such should not be a criminal offence. As always, the answer is never so simple. The implementation of legalized euthanasia would require a fundamental reshaping, amongst other things, of society’s conception of justice, the goals of medical care and the inviolability and dignity of the human person. Once such a rethink, already seemingly in process, is normalized, what was once argued to be a private matter will become subject to powerful societal forces. And, as Dr. Janz so eloquently demonstrates, in situations like this it is the already-vulnerable who stand to suffer the most. In a time of legalized euthanasia, there will be countless instances of caregivers, family or medical professionals, motivated by factors ranging from malevolence to a tragically misplaced sense of mercy, who suggest, encourage or implore others to make the decision to end their own life. And for those who are vulnerable, those without a voice, such a cacophony around them will lead many to reluctantly make this decision. Moreover, Dr. Janz points out that in many cases, the doubts, fears and desires to die associated with a disability or terminal condition may only be transient; the delivery of more supportive and compassionate medical care, or a society which prioritizes love and hope over death and expediency, could reinvigorate a person’s desire to live. But if the decision to die is one which is legal and therefore easily implemented, there is no going back; no opportunity to explore what could have been, how much more self-actualization that individual may have been able to achieve. Certainly these potential consequences indicate that legalized euthanasia represents far more than the emancipation of individual choice; it represents a complete rethink of how our society interacts with some of its most vulnerable members.

Our appreciation of the dignity of the human person has taken many massive strides over the centuries of human civilization. Adopting legalized euthanasia would represent a step backwards in this respect, one which would most profoundly impact those who are most in need of society’s protection.

The full article by Dr. Janz can be found at the link below:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/10/26/why_im_afraid_of_mp_steven_fletchers_assistedsuicide_bill.html

- Roman Zyla graduated from U of T in 2014 with a specialist in pharmacology and is now in his first year of medical school. He is a keen follower of life issues in the news and has experience engaging his peers in debates about the issues. 

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

University of Toronto Students for Life: What will be the new face of euthanasia look like?

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by matthewcram412. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Hey guys, first of all Happy Holidays from your friends here at UTSFL. Now onto the main topic: a few weeks ago the always brilliant Margaret Summerville made a speech here at U of T on the subject of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, a topic which is of great relevance to us today because, at this moment as many of you know, the Supreme Court is reviewing a motion from British Columbia about whether to revisit legalizing euthanasia, on a flimsy legal technicality that would overrule an earlier 1993 case which held that Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia were constitutionally illegal. Dr. Summerville also mentioned similar cases going on right now in Belgium where they, after legalizing euthanasia a number of years ago, are at this moment in discussion about whether to allow euthanasia in cases of minors below the age of 18, an extremely troubling concept I will get to later on.

However, as I was doing my research for this topic, I found that euthanasia was not a debate that was limited to Canada and Belgium. A brief Google search revealed a powerfully worded article from New Zealand condemning euthanasia on demand (citing, who else, Margaret Summerville) in regards to a euthanasia on demand bill proposed by an MP; a report from the French government’s president Francois Hollande recommending that French law continue to prohibit legal euthanasia, and a newsbyte from  Ireland indicating a grassroots movements to challenge those countries’ laws on the subject, and that was without even scrolling to the bottom of the page! It seems that all over the world people and governments are grappling with the issue of whether or not doctors, or anyone else for that matter, have the right to kill other people, and whether or not that decision should be effected by whether they wanted to die or not.

It seems ironic therefore that with all the worldwide debate on this issue that I found the best articulation of my feelings on the issue right here at home in the pages of the Globe and Mail from an article written 2 months ago (I know I am seriously behind on blogging but bear with me). Okay it wasn’t the Globe and Mail itself, but rather the Globe’s recitation of the argument made by the government in regards to the British Colombia case. In it, the government argues the case for the slippery slope that could lead people to taking their own lives in a moment of weakness. We often hear the slippery slope argument maligned in our society, and indeed it is often used irresponsibly, but in this situation, in my mind at least, it rings true.

After all, we all remember those people who said (and still do say) that abortion would, once legalized, be used in the vast majority of cases for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest or those pregnancies that risked the mother’s life, despite the fact that these cases represent the tiniest fraction of the actual uses of abortion. These cases appeal to the sense of compassion that we have, and indeed should have, when we are confronted with cases of people in awful situations that they didn’t ask for, trying to do the best they can. We as pro-lifers know the arguments, we know that the life that is about to be taken is valuable, that an innocent child should not held accountable for the crimes of its father, and that abortion will not undo the incredible trauma the women experiences, but will only make another victim. But for all of this, we should have a hard time being strong in our convictions for that person, just as we should have a hard time holding the hand of a person with advanced ALS and telling them that their life is valuable, that their worth comes, not from what they can do or how much pain they are in, but from who they are, even when the pain in their lives makes that life seem like they are not worth living. These situations don’t mean we are wrong, it means we are human.

However the question to me that this watershed moment of euthanasia debate worldwide evokes is, what next? What will be the consequences of this debate; where are we headed in terms of euthanasia? If indeed we do legalize euthanasia, in twenty years will the average patient asking their doctor to kill them look like a terminally ill patient in great pain with only hours left of life, or will they look like someone else? One of the article I looked at mentioned the possibility of “euthanasia counselling” in Belgium for those over the age of 80, where the government sends people to talk about whether euthanasia is right for them given their advanced age. Will the new face of euthanasia look like a terminally ill person, or an octogenarian convinced that their life has no value by people who don’t want to pay for their medical bills. Such pressure might seem absurd now, but the idea of one person legally killing another person seemed absurd not too long ago.

And then there are of course people with disabilities, particularly those with mental health issues who would, in my mind be particularly vulnerable. One of the key definitions of a person with mental health problems who needs society’s immediate help is intent to harm themselves or others, but what do we do to help these people if harming oneself becomes such a fundamental right that others must help you in your self destruction? Will the new face of euthanasia be a person in chronic unendurable pain or a person with a disease of the mind, a person with clinical depression who, in a moment of weakness brought about by a chemical imbalance, decides to ask a doctor, a person whom society sees as a trusted lifesaving professional, to take their life, but who, with the right medication, could live a normal life like the rest of us. This might seem like something that society would never allow, but are we are really so confident in our justice system and the will of our governments to take on controversial topics, that we can be certain that they will make a legal code so airtight as to remove all the loopholes? Or will the government, as they have done so often before with problems that were made without their consent, ignore the problem and hope it goes away?

And finally there are children: not only is there the disgusting examples of the Gottingen protocol in the Netherlands which allows a grace period to kill disabled children after they are born (believe me I couldn’t make this stuff up) but there is the example I cited earlier on in this post, about extending euthanasia to minors, which to me is a colossal problem in its own right. As of course you all know, children and particularly teenagers have a reputation of seeing the world through the lenses of, shall we say, the melodramatic. I certainly did, and I’m betting that if you look back at your own experiences you will find an instance or two of drama in your teenage years as well. Everything seems like it matters so much more when you are in high school, getting a date can make you feel like you are king of the world, but a bad grade, a stinging comment, a failed relationship, all of these things can make you feel like the world has just come to an cataclysmic end. Now imagine that there was someone there at your lowest moment of in life, someone telling you that there was a way to end it all, that death wasn’t a big deal and that the romance of dying young would teach everyone who had laughed at you how wrong they were. Now imagine that person was a doctor, someone whose job and status made you trust them implicitly, a person for whom your life long attendance at his appointments and your disclosure to him or your most personal medical secrets made you feel that you had a deep personal connection with them. Quick what would you do?

Because that’s the dirty little secret about the face of euthanasia if it was made legal on demand, it’s all of us. All of us have moments in our lives when we are low, not just those with incurable excruciating physical diseases. And that’s why we don’t as a society have doctors who make their money from providing the service of murder, convincing those among us who feel low that they have nowhere to go but down. We are at an unprecedented watershed, my friends, a point where we decide internationally the value of human life and whether those who help save it should also have the power to end it. The choice, like all choices in a democratic society inevitably falls to you.

Anyway this is my opinion about the issue, but I’m infinitely more interested in yours. What do you think the new face of euthanasia will look like? Will it be confined to only the small number of terminally ill patients in pain or proliferate to others? What do you think of the issue more broadly? Pro assisted suicide? Against it? Somewhere in between? Never really thought about it? Tired of the maniac on the message board asking you how you feel about these things? Please leave a comment in the comment section. Anything you have to say about the issue from any point of view (even if it’s to tell me that I am 100% wrong on everything, not the least of which being my atrocious grammar) is greatly appreciated.

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

University of Toronto Students for Life: The New Face of Euthanasia

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by matthewcram412. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Hey guys! This is my first official post as your new co-webmaster and we are starting on a high note here. In our focus on euthanasia I am sure many of you are aware of the Rasouli case. For those … Continue reading

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

University of Toronto Students for LifeUniversity of Toronto Students for Life: Looking to the Netherlands on Euthanasia

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

There was an article in the Vancouver Sun a few days ago about euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Cristina Alarcon, pharmacist in BC, comments on the article as follows:

RE: Euthanasia supporters, critics in Canada look to Dutch for evidence
As pointed out by Henk Reitsma, the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands has lead to a “kind” of slippery slope; at its apex beams the patients’ apparent rights to self-determination, at its base lurks a chasm empowering the healthcare system to do what it wills.  And the non-compliant are over-dosed with sedatives, starved and dehydrated, practices that do not require reporting, thus avoiding risk of prosecution for not following proper “euthanasia” guidelines.  If guidelines are not always followed in the Netherlands, Canadians cannot presume to be exempt from misconduct.  And given our overtaxed healthcare system, the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada would be none other than a perfect recipe for abuse.

Cristina Alarcon

Cristina is right. To say there is not a problem with abuse due to euthanasia in the Netherlands because “rates” have not increased dramatically is a superficial assessment if not all of the data is taken into account. When euthanasia deaths go up by 19% from 2009 to 2010 there is some cause for concern. Also, Groningen University Hospital already decided to euthanize children under the age of 12 if their suffering is intolerable or if their condition is deemed incurable. Also, when your citizens are walking around with “Do not euthanize me” cards, according to the Nightingdale Alliance, it is usually not a good sign.

Maybe the slope is not that slippery yet but the Netherlands is definitely heading down the waterslide. And Canada, with all the attention being paid to out of control health care costs, may join them in the near future if we are not diligent in opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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

University of Toronto Students for Life: Margaret Somerville on why we shouldn’t authorize killing

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

Margaret Somerville appears on The Source with Ezra Levant to discuss the moral and ethical problems with legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The most important question to ask is, is society either authorizing someone to kill other people or authorizing them to help them kill themselves, is that morally wrong? [...] The problem with assisted suicide is that society has to become complicit in it and society has to say, “we’ll authorize this,” and society has to change its laws to allow it to be legal, and its that complicity that I think is so dangerous and wrong… It’s a culture of despair, and the opposite of despair is hope[...] People who want euthanasia are not depressed, it’s usually not because of pain, but [...] the state they’re in is hopelessness[... having] nothing to look forward to.

Watch the whole 9 minute interview here.


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

University of Toronto Students for Life: Dr. Adrian Owen on TVO’s The Agenda

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

Danny wrote about Dr. Adrian Owen’s research on awareness and patients in a vegetative state last year, while Owen was in the UK. Now he’s the Canada excellence research chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario, and Steve Paikin sat down with him for a half hour interview on his work this past Spring [25min]. Very important research to keep an eye on regarding “end of life” issues.


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

University of Toronto Students for Life: Let’s talk about eugenics

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

A friend of UTSFL sent this post to us. It is definitely worth a read!

What is one of the the number one things that pro-abortion advocates don’t want people thinking about? Maybe that over 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted.

There is a silent eugenics campaign going on against persons with disabilities, in the form of abortion. Advocates for abortion on demand never mention how many babies with disabilities are aborted every year. In the US 80%  to 90% of babies with spinal bifida are aborted. Over 90% of babies with Down Syndrome. Many babies with cystic fibrosis are aborted. Many more babies with rare ailments, mental disabilities, or physical disibilities are aborted every year. Women even choose to abort babies when ultrasounds late in pregnancy reveal birth defects like a cleft palate or a clubfoot.

It’s a not a simple issue issue. There are some cases where the baby would suffer very much if born. Many parents who choose abortion in these cases do it with the best intentions, out of love for their child and a desire not to see that child suffer. Further, raising a child with a disability really is difficult, emotionally and financially, for parents. A person with a disability may never be able to live independantly. He may always depend on support from parents or siblings. He might have a significantly reduced quality of life.

However, does that make the child any less a person? Just because someone looks different or is physically less able, or learns slower than you or me, that doesn’t make them less human. There is a whole gradient of ability amongst the human race. Is someone who got a PhD in physics at age seventeen more human than a barely-literate highschool dropout? Is an olympic athelete more human than someone in a wheelchair?

A disability certainly makes life more difficult, but can we really assume that someone who will have a more difficult life than average wouldn’t want to live or shouldn’t have the right to live?

The life of someone with mental and physical disabilities is not necessarily one of constant, unmitigated pain and suffering. With support from their family and community, many disabled people can live very happy and fulfilling lives. If you look around, you’ll find young adults with Down Syndrome graduating from highschool and taking classes at community college. There are special needs basketball teams, and there are children with special needs playing clarinet in their school bands. You’ll find people who would have been institutionalized 50 years ago who hold down steady jobs. They have friends, they have favourite pop singers, they have hobbies and interests. Yes, a child with serious mental disibilities will never grow up to be Prime Minister, and a child with serious physical disibilities will never grow up to be an NHL player–but, neither will the vast majority of us.

The growing trend of aborting babies with disabilities and congenital birth defects has stark societal consequences. Couples who choose to keep their “abnormal” children are viewed as cruel or crazy for allowing these children to be born, to suffer and to waste our reasources. There are journalists and intellectuals who have called for euthansia of children with disabilities at birth. We’re writing off whole groups of people as having no value or importance to society, just because they look different and they are unable to do some of the things that other people can. Instead of viewing persons with disabilities as human beings, people view them as subhuman creatures that are a drain on society.

Debating with some pro-choice friends about abortion, I brought up the fact that 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted–and someone was quick to reply that it didn’t matter if you aborted a child with Down Syndrome, becuase they were more like monkeys than human beings.

As long as abortion is legal, this issue isn’t going to go away. In fact, as medical sciences advance further and we can test more accurately, earlier, for a broader range of “abnormalities”, it will likely become even more common. A prenatal test for autism is in the works. How many parents would abort their child, knowing he or she had autism?

If you support legalized abortion, this is something you have to take into consideration–is it a good thing that every year we’re aborting thousands of babies who were initially wanted by their parents, until they found out that there was something “wrong” with their child?

On the other hand, if we as pro-lifers say these children have a right to be born and to live, then we have an additional responsibility to offer some measure of help and support to those with disabilities. This is something which should be as much a part of the pro-life cause and pro-life action as running crisis pregnancy centres, or holding prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. Volunteer with a group that runs programs for special needs kids, or patronize businesses that employ people with disabilities, like the Coffee Shed (there’s one in the New College library at U of T), a coffee shop run by people with special needs.

Laila Hulbert


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