Euthanasia in Canada: a Cautionary Tale

Rene Leiva, Margaret M. Cottle, Catherine Ferrier, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Timothy Lau, Terence McQuiston, John F. Scott*

We are Canadian physicians who are dismayed and concerned by the impact  – on patients, on doctors, on medical practice – of the universal implementation, in our country, of euthanasia defined as medical “care” to which all citizens are entitled (subject to the satisfaction of ambiguous and arbitrary qualifying criteria). Many of us feel so strongly about the difficulty of practicing under newly prescribed constraints that we may be forced, for reasons of personal integrity and professional conscience, to emigrate or to withdraw from practice altogether. All of us are deeply worried about the future of medicine in Canada. We believe this transformation will not only be detrimental to patient safety, but also damaging to that all-important perception by the public  – and by physicians themselves – that we are truly a profession dedicated to healing alone. Thus, we are alarmed by attempts to convince the World Medical Association (WMA) to change its policies against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide. . . Continue reading in the World Medical Journal | Français

Conscientious objection in reproductive health – ancient prerogative or harmful practice

J.M. Thorp Jr.

Abstract

BJOG

We must return to our Pythagorean roots and not substitute a secular group conscience to replace individual conscience, and thereby protect the rights of all parties. My hope is that our specialty will uphold the right of individual clinicians to practise according to their consciences and we will continue to welcome Hippocratic clinicians into our ranks.


Thorp JM. Conscientious objection in reproductive health – ancient prerogative or harmful practice. BJOG. 2018 Oct;125(11):1357-1358. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.15226. Epub 2018 May 2.

Canadian Medical Association and euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada

Critical review of CMA approach to changes in policy and law

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

English | Français | Español | Deutsche | Português | bahasa Indonesia


In December, 2013, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Board of Directors decided to shape the debate and law concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide and revisit CMA policy opposing physician participation in the procedures. By the summer of 2014 it was clear that the overwhelming majority of physicians supported the existing policy. However, it appears that the Board decided the policy should be changed before the Supreme Court of Canada decided the case of Carter v. Canada.

The Board sponsored an ostensibly neutral resolution affirming support for the right of physicians to follow their conscience in deciding whether or not to provide euthanasia/assisted suicide if the law changed. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved. Unnoticed at the time was that the resolution was not conditional upon eligibility criteria, such as decision-making capacity or terminal illness.

The CMA intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case emphasized that existing CMA policy against euthanasia and assisted suicide would be changed to reflect the resolution. It conveyed the message that the Association would support physicians who decided to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide no matter how broadly the Court or legislatures might cast the rules governing the procedures.

The Board reversed CMA policy about two months before the Court ruled. It formally approved physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, subject only to legal constraints. The policy did not exclude minors, the incompetent or the mentally ill, nor did it limit euthanasia and assisted suicide to the terminally ill or those with uncontrollable pain. It classified both as “end of life care,” promising support for patient access to the procedures should they be legalized. Support for physicians refusing to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide was qualified by the statement that there should be no “undue delay” in providing them. Implicit in all of this was a new ethical paradigm: that in some circumstances, physicians have a professional obligation to kill patients or to help them kill themselves.

The new policy effectively wrote a blank cheque for the Supreme Court of Canada to legalize euthanasia and physician assisted suicide on any terms acceptable to the judges. After the Court struck down the law CMA officials expressed concern about the criteria set by the Court. It was implied that the Supreme Court was to blame for anxiety and profound discomfort among Canadian physicians because it had imposed upon them an obligation to kill, contrary to centuries of medical ethics and practice.

However, the concerns voiced by CMA officials after the Carter ruling existed when the CMA intervened in the case, and the CMA did not raise them then. In fact, the Supreme Court gave legal effect to a policy the CMA had already adopted, and the criteria the Court set for the procedures were actually more restrictive than anything the CMA had proposed. The Court cannot be blamed because CMA leaders were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of a ruling entirely consistent with their own policy.

The consequences fell most heavily upon physicians who refused, for reasons of conscience, to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide or to collaborate in providing the services by referral or other means. Since Carter, the debate in Canada has been largely about whether or under what circumstances physicians and institutions should be allowed to refuse to provide or facilitate the services. While it is generally agreed that physicians should not be compelled to personally provide them, there are strident demands that physicians unwilling to kill their patients or help them commit suicide should be forced to refer patients to someone who will.

This review demonstrates that the CMA Board of Directors focus in 2014 was on the role physicians would play in providing euthanasia and assisted suicide should the law change. The Board knew that the overwhelming majority of Canadian physicians would refuse to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide. The fundamental conflict presented by imposing an obligation to kill upon unwilling physicians was foreseeable and had been foreseen by CMA officials. Attacks upon physician freedom of conscience, particularly with respect to referral, were predictable.

However, the Board failed to consider physician freedom of conscience in relation to assisted suicide and euthanasia except the extent that it could be used to further its policy goals. As a result, after the Carter ruling, CMA officials were quite unprepared to mount a cogent, articulate and persuasive defence of physician freedom of conscience, especially in relation to referral. They discovered that state authorities and the public were often unreceptive and even hostile to physicians unwilling to arrange for patients to be killed by someone else. Negotiating at a significant disadvantage of their own making, they were desperate to find a policy “acceptable to the regulators” and to objecting physicians whose fundamental freedoms they had rashly jeopardized.

The CMA has since produced a strong defence of physician freedom of conscience in relation to referral for euthanasia and assisted suicide, and sound protection of conscience provisions have been incorporated into a revised CMA policy on the procedures. However, by the time these statements appeared, objecting physicians were on the defensive in a treacherous and even hostile environment, compelled to launch an expensive constitutional challenge to defend fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion. The outcome of that case will determine if they will be able to continue to practise medicine if they refuse to collaborate in killing their patients.

The World Medical Association (WMA) national medical associations are free to decide to change their policies on physician participation in euthanasia or assisted suicide. This review demonstrates that they should not follow the example of the Canadian Medical Association if they wish to safeguard the fundamental freedoms of physicians and health care workers. [Full Text]

Providing medical assistance in dying: Practice perspectives

Jessica Shaw, Ellen Wiebe, Amelia Nuhn, Sheila Holmes, Michaela Kelly, Alanna Just

Abstract

Canadian Family Physician

OBJECTIVE: To explore the experiences of the first cohort of physicians to offer medical assistance in dying (MAID) in British Columbia. DESIGN: Qualitative study using semistructured, one-on-one interviews.

SETTING: British Columbia.

PARTICIPANTS: Eight physicians who offered MAID in British Columbia in 2016. METHODS: The physicians were interviewed by telephone or by e-mail between 4 and 6 months after MAID was made legal in Canada, with follow-up in January 2017. Interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed, and analyzed through qualitative thematic analysis.

MAIN FINDINGS: Participants believed that MAID was rewarding and satisfying work. They explained that some of the structural and emotional challenges related to providing MAID included the following: the refusal of faith-based institutions to provide information about MAID to patients, as well as their refusal to allow assessments or deaths to occur on site; having to deny MAID to patients who did not qualify for it; disagreements with colleagues who did not support the provision of MAID; dealing with the grief of family and friends who were present at the death; and feeling like they were always on call. While a few participants thought that the legislative restrictions of Bill C-14 were appropriate in the beginning when MAID was first available in Canada, most would like to see changes to the legislation to make it more aligned with the intent of the Carter decision, including broadening the eligibility criteria to include mature minors and people with advanced psychiatric diagnoses, having the ability to honour advance directives, and removing the requirement of death being in the reasonably foreseeable future for patients with grievous and irremediable conditions.

CONCLUSION: Physicians in this study explained that providing MAID is rewarding work; however, there are many challenges that complicate their ability to offer MAID to patients. The current MAID legislation in Canada should be updated to better serve the needs of patients.


Shaw J, Wiebe E, Nuhn A, Holmes S, Kelly M, Just A. Providing medical assistance in dying: Practice perspectives. Can Fam Physician. 2018 Sep;64(9):e394-e399.

New euthanasia/assisted suicide law in Australia

Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017

Sean Murphy*

Introduction
On 19 April, 2018, the legislature of the State of Victoria, Australia, passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will come into force in June, 2019.  It is currently the most restrictive euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS) legislation in the world, running to 130 pages.  In brief, the law authorizes physician assisted suicide for terminally ill adults, but permits euthanasia by physicians only when patients are physically unable to self-administer a lethal drug.  In both cases a permit must be obtained in advance.  The main elements of the law are set out below, followed by consideration of its protection of conscience provisions. . .  [Full Text]

Why I will be a conscientious objector to Victoria’s assisted dying law

A palliative care specialist laments the unrealistic individualism and elitism of the euthanasia movement

MercatorNet

Adrian Dabscheck

During a recent period of enforced rest, I had time to reflect on my attitude to the recently enacted voluntary assisted dying legislation in Victoria and consider my response.1 I will detail my reaction to the Act and why I have chosen to become a so-called conscientious objector.

In his essay Western Attitudes Toward Death,2 French historian Philippe Ariès illustrates the evolution of our attitudes to death.

Initially, and for millennia, there had been a general resignation to the destiny of our species for which he used the phrase, Et moriemur, and we shall all die. This was replaced in the 12th Century by the more modern concept of the importance of one’s self, and he used the phrase, la mort de soi, one’s own death.

Ariès then notes that in the 18th Century man gave death a dramatic and disquieting meaning. Man became concerned with the death of the other person, la mort de toi. Death was no longer familiar, nor were the dead. The dead had been torn from life; death had become an important event. By the 19th Century mourning had become difficult and thy death, la mort de toi, is more feared than la mort de soi, one’s own death.

Following this slow evolution in Western attitudes towards death, from being ubiquitous and familiar, with industrialisation, came the concept of the forbidden and shameful death. Life was now meant to be happy and this happiness was interrupted by the emotional disturbance of death and dying. Death was not spoken of, as illustrated by Tolstoy in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”.3 Death was moved from home to hospital, from the care of one’s family to the sanitised, technical care whereby it is difficult to tell when the dying process actually began due to the interference of modern medicine. Death became part of the medical industrial-movement.

In a 2013 article reviewing the situation in Flanders where euthanasia is embedded in palliative care,4 it was noted:

Healthcare professionals note that family members and proxies tend, much more than before, to consider the dying process as undignified, useless and meaningless, even if it happens peacefully, comfortably and with professional support. Requests made by family members for fast and active interventions from healthcare professionals regarding elderly parents are often very coercive, with little nuance or subtlety. End-of-life interventions such as euthanasia are seen as an instrument to end a process of disease (or old age) that is demanding and difficult to bear, instead of letting it follow its course.’

We could not be further removed from Ariès’ phrase, Et moriemur, and we shall all die. Happiness is now the ultimate goal; we can no longer accept the place of death in our life. Ariès wrote in L’Homme devant la mort:5 “Death must simply become the discreet but dignified exit of a peaceful person from a helpful society. A death without pain or suffering, and ultimately without fear.” Thus the idealised ‘good death’.

Unfortunately, for most, society is unable to achieve such utopian goals, hence the need for the modern palliative care movement. As David Roy noted in the third edition of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine,6 it is up to society to allow the palliative care movement to flourish, to remove barriers to care, to develop the broad tapestry of interconnected people, resources, services and institutions to care for those who suffer in the face of death.

For this to be successful there must be an effective ethic of care. An ethic that allows relationships to flourish, an ethic that acknowledges the vulnerability of people and views autonomy from a relational rather than an atomistic perspective. Autonomy is a product of our personhood, our development of interests and values gained by interactions with others. None of us can make decisions which are free from influence. Our decisions relating to ourselves are made in the context of relationships. We commence our life completely dependent on others to sustain us. We depend on the non-judgemental love of others to care for us, to allow us to become independent, to become autonomous in the context of family, friends and society.

I continually ask myself, how have we allowed our ethical boundaries to move to such a degree that a law allowing doctors to take life as a way of relieving suffering has been passed by our state legislature? How have we allowed our view of the individual to become so individualistic and self-gratifying, so removed from an acknowledgement of our dependence on others, so self-centred or dare I say narcissistic?

Perhaps we can learn for the world of art and aesthetics. Hans van Meegeren was an accomplished forger of Vermeer, such that Vermeer experts accepted as originals what are obvious from our current perspective as forgeries. David Roy asks:6 “What process was at work that could so distort the faculties of aesthetic perception and poor judgement? It was a process of incremental adaption to incrementally poor forgeries.”

The Netherlands introduced the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act in 2001. In 2005, of all deaths, 0.4 percent were the result of the ending of life without an explicit request by the patient.7 In 2013 euthanasia was performed for 97 patients with dementia and 42 patients with psychiatric diseases (percentages not reported).8 Have ethical perceptions been distorted such that incremental creep allowed this to happen, as it did with aesthetics and van Meegeren?

In an article published in May 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing the experience of the University Health Network in Toronto after the introduction of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in Canada,9 the authors noted:

[T]hose who received MAiD tended to be white and relatively affluent and indicated that loss of autonomy was the primary reason for their request. Other common reasons included the wish to avoid burdening others or losing dignity and the intolerability of not being able to enjoy one’s life. Few patients cited inadequate control of pain or other symptoms.

I would like to question if the possible consequent good of allowing a highly selected population of privileged people the ability to request and be administered medical assistance in dying is sufficient to overturn millennia of accepted medical practice. Medicine has long been perceived by society to be beneficent and is trusted to avoid actions which would deliberately hasten death. The intent of palliative medicine is the relief of pain and suffering, not the taking of life. Should we risk the incremental creep of our values for the sake of a privileged few?

Do we wish to allow our society to become similar to Belgium, where we are so removed from the human experience that we consider the dying process useless, meaningless and undignified?

In my own city, Melbourne, we can all witness the inadequate provision of palliative care and other health services to more economically challenged sections of our society. A similar picture emerges in rural settings. Can we as a society justify allocating resources to voluntary assisted dying, when basic palliative care and health care are so lacking?

Should we really allow the values of our society to be so radically altered for the few who are so removed from an acceptance of the frailty of the human experience, from an acceptance that we are all dependent on others and vulnerable?

It is for the above reasons that I will be a so-called conscientious objector when the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act comes into operation on 19 June 2019. I will continue to practise medicine as it has been practised for millennia, for the relief of pain and suffering. I would encourage all doctors to in Victoria to do likewise.


Adrian Dabscheck is a Palliative Care Consultant from Victoria

References

1.  Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic).

2.  Ariès P. Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

3.  Tolstoy L. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Published in 1886.

4.  Vanden Berghe P, et al. Assisted Dying – the current situation in Flanders: euthanasia embedded in palliative care. European Journal of Palliative Care 2013;20(6):266-272.

5.  Ariès P. L’Homme devant la mort (The Hour of Our Death). Published in 1977.

6.  Doyle D, et al. (eds.) Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine. 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005.

7.  Van der Heide A, et al. End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act. New England Journal of Medicine 2007;356:1957-1965.

8.  Radbruch L, et al. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: A white paper from the European Association for Palliative Care. Palliative Medicine 2016;30(2):104-116.

9.  Li M, et al. Medical assistance in dying – implementing a hospital-based program in Canada. New England Journal of Medicine 2017;376:2082-2088.


This article is published by Adrian Dabscheck and MercatorNet under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to MercatorNet. Commercial media must contact MercatorNet for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Project Advisor Dr. Shahid Athar dies

Indianapolis interfaith community remembers the man who brought them together

Indy Star

Jordyn Hermani

A visionary.

A lantern in the darkness.

A man who leaves behind a hole in his community that cannot be filled.

There were kind words and tears shed for Dr. Shahid Athar at his memorial service Monday. But there was one resounding sentiment that permeated the Masjid Al-Huda   mosque in Fishers: Athar was an idealist without a mean bone in his body, one who envisioned the world as a place where people of all creeds could come together in harmony.

Athar died Saturday following a long battle with an illness. He was 73.

“His loss is a loss to the entire community,” said Dennis Sasso, the senior rabbi at the Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. “We lost a pillar of many communities.” . . . [Full text]

Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Neutrality by Organized Medicine Is Neither Neutral Nor Appropriate

Daniel P. Sulmasy, Ilora Finlay, Faith Fitzgerald, Kathleen Foley, Richard Payne, Mark Siegler

Abstract

Journal of General Internal Medicine

It has been proposed that medical organizations adopt neutrality with respect to physician-assisted suicide (PAS), given that the practice is legal in some jurisdictions and that membership is divided. We review developments in end-of-life care and the role of medical organizations with respect to the legalization of PAS since the 1990s. We argue that moving from opposition to neutrality is not ethically neutral, but a substantive shift from prohibited to optional. We argue that medical organizations already oppose many practices that are legal in many jurisdictions, and that unanimity among membership has not been required for any other clinical or ethical policy positions. Moreover, on an issue so central to the meaning of medical professionalism, it seems important for organized medicine to take a stand. We subsequently review the arguments in favor of PAS (arguments from autonomy and mercy, and against the distinction between killing and allowing to die (K/ATD)) and the arguments against legalization (the limits of autonomy, effects on the patient-physician relationship, the meaning of healing, the validity of the K/ATD distinction, the social nature of suicide, the availability of alternatives, the propensity for incremental extension, and the meaning of control). We conclude that organized medicine should continue its opposition to PAS.


Sulmasy DP, Finlay I, Fitzgerald F, Foley K, Payne R, Siegler M. Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Neutrality by Organized Medicine Is Neither Neutral Nor Appropriate. J Gen Intern Med. 2018 Aug;33(8):1394-1399. doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4424-8. Epub 2018 May 2.

Medical Euthanasia in Canada: Current Issues and Potential Future Expansion

Psychiatric Times

Mark S. Komrad

Dr Mark Komrad explores the relatively new Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law in Canada, and how it may be on the verge of opening medical euthanasia to certain qualified psychiatric patients, similar to practices in Belgium and The Netherlands (see A Psychiatrist Visits Belgium: The Epicenter of Psychiatric Euthanasia).

He also brings out specific worries about the emerging ethical and legal trends in Ontario, to stop conscientious objecting physicians from refusing to refer cases of patients seeking euthanasia to colleagues who might be willing to provide it.

Dr Komrad is a clinical psychiatrist and an ethicist. He just finished a 6-year tenure on the APA Ethics Committee and also serves on the APA Assembly. In those contexts, he helped to craft the current current APA position on Medical Euthanasia for non-terminally ill patients [PDF]. He is also on the teaching Faculty of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Sheppard Pratt, and the University of Maryland. Dr Komrad’s opinions are his own, and he is not officially representing the APA in this article, nor any of the institutions where he is on the faculty. . . . [Go to Psychiatric Times for Podcast]

 

From women’s ‘irresponsibility’ to foetal ‘patienthood’: Obstetricians-gynaecologists’ perspectives on abortion and its stigmatisation in Italy and Cataluña

Silvia De Zordo

Abstract

Global Public Health

This article explores obstetricians-gynaecologists’ experiences and attitudes towards abortion, based on two mixed-methods studies respectively undertaken in Italy in 2011–2012, and in Spain (Cataluña) in 2013–2015. Short questionnaires and in-depth interviews were conducted with 54 obstetricians-gynaecologists at 4 hospitals providing abortion care in Rome and Milan, and with 23 obstetricians-gynaecologists at 2 hospitals and one clinic providing abortion care in Barcelona. A medical/moral classification of abortions, from those considered ‘more acceptable’, both medically and morally – for severe foetal malformations – to the ‘least acceptable’ ones – repeated ‘voluntary abortions’, emerged in the discourse of most obstetricians-gynaecologists working in public hospitals, regardless of their religiosity. I argue that this is the result of the increasing medicalisation of contraception as well as of reproduction, which has reinforced the stigmatisation of ‘voluntary abortion’ (in case of unintended pregnancy) in a context of declining fertility rates. This contributes to explain why obstetricians-gynaecologists working in Catalan hospitals, which provide terminations only for medical reasons, unlike Italian hospitals, do not experience abortion stigma and do not object to abortion care as much as their Italian colleagues do.


De Zordo S. From women’s ‘irresponsibility’ to foetal ‘patienthood’: Obstetricians-gynaecologists’ perspectives on abortion and its stigmatisation in Italy and Cataluña. Global Public Health 2018 Jun; 13(6): 711-123. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2017.1293707. Epub 2017 Mar 5.