World Medical Association to consider policy changes on abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide

Debate planned for ethics conference in October in Iceland

Sean Murphy*

Following a meeting of the WMA Council in Riga, Latvia, the WMA issued a statement noting that a revised version of the WMA abortion policy would be presented for approval at the WMA annual General Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In addition, the WMA has announced that there will be a further “open debate” on changing the Association’s policy against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide.  The debate will occur during a WMA conference on medical ethics taking place at the same time and place.  Formal presentations on euthanasia and assisted suicide will be given on 4 October, 2018, but informal discussions among delegates are likely to be important.  The debate appears to be a consequence of lobbying by the Canadian and Royal Dutch Medical Associations to convince the WMA to drop its condemnation of the practices

It is not clear whether or not WMA members appreciate the relationship between abortion policy and euthanasia policy.  Compulsory referral for abortion is essentially a dress rehearsal for compulsory referral for euthanasia and assisted suicide, something clearly demonstrated in Canada.  Accusations of “patient abandonment” formerly aimed at those refusing to refer for abortion1 are now, in addition, being levelled at those who refuse to refer patients to someone willing to kill them or help them commit suicide.2

In 2011, a Royal Society of Canada panel of experts chaired by Udo Schuklenk  recommended legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.3  The experts insisted that health care professionals unwilling to provide euthanasia help patients commit suicide must refer them to someone willing to do so.4 This was justified, they said, because it was agreed that objectors are obliged to refer for “reproductive health services.”5  It really was not agreed: the Canadian Medical Association had, in fact, rejected this claim five years earlier6 after it was made by Jocelyn Downie,7 one of Schuklenk’s colleagues on the Royal Society Panel.

By 2015 Schuklenk was arguing that objecting physicians should not be accommodated at all. Among his arguments was that referring for abortion or euthanasia is not a compromise because it involves moral complicity in the act, “barely reduced” by the act of referral.8  This implied that physicians should be forced to provide abortion and euthanasia, notwithstanding religious or conscientious convictions to the contrary, a position Schuklenk explicitly adopted over the next two years.9, 10

At the same time, Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran was insisting that physicians should be forced to kill eligible patients themselves.11 He claimed that this was required by human rights law,12 describing effective referral as an unacceptable form of illicit discrimination.13

In considering changes to euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion policies in October, WMA delegates will have to take great care to consider not only the most obvious ethical issues of life and death, but less obvious yet important issues like the distinction between acceptable cooperation and unacceptable collaboration, which play out in disputes about mandatory referral for abortion and euthanasia.


Notes
1.  “According to the prevailing norm of beneficence therefore, as well as those of trust, patient autonomy, and not abandoning patients, physicians should refer patients for abortions.”  McLeod C. Referral in the Wake of Conscientious Objection to Abortion. Hypatia, Vol. 23, No. 4 (October-December, 2008) at p. 36 (Accessed 2018-08-022).

2.  Cook M. Canadian court tells doctors they must refer for euthanasia. Mercatornet, 2 February, 2018

3. Schuklenk U, van Delden JJM, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011)[“Royal Society“] p. 96 (Accessed 2014-02-23).

4.  Royal Society, p. 69, 101.

5.  Royal Society, p. 62.

6.  Blackmer J. Clarification of the CMA’s position on induced abortion. CMAJ April 24, 2007 vol. 176 no. 9 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.1070035 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

7.  Rodgers S. Downie J. Abortion: Ensuring Access. CMAJ July 4, 2006 vol. 175 no. 1 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.060548 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

8.  Schuklenk, U. Conscientious objection in medicine: private ideological convictions must not supercede public service obligations (2015) 29:5 Bioethics ii, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12167

9.  Schuklenk U, Smalling R. Why medical professionals have no claim to conscientious objection accommodation in liberal democracies (2016) 43:4 J Med Ethics 234, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2016-103560.

10. Savulescu J, Schuklenk U. Doctors have no right to refuse medical assistance in dying, abortion or contraception (2017) 31:3 Bioethics 162, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12288

11.  Though conceding that a lethal drug might be administered in the physician’s presence by a delegate, and that referral might be necessitated by technical incompetence. Attaran A. The Limits of Conscientious and Religious Objection to Physician-Assisted Dying after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Carter v Canada (2016 ) 36:3 Health L Can 86 [“Attaran“], p. 87-88, 96.

12.  “[W]hen a doctor refuses to assist a patient who is disabled by a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’, just because the patient wants death rather than something else, that arguably discriminates against the disabled patient.” Attaran, p. 89.

13.  Attaran, p. 91–93.

B.C. doctor cleared of wrongdoing for providing assisted death to woman who starved herself

Globe and Mail

Kelly Grant

British Columbia’s physician regulator has cleared a doctor of any wrongdoing for providing medical aid in dying to a woman who did not qualify for the procedure until she starved herself to the brink of death.

A committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC) found that Ellen Wiebe did not break the regulator’s rules when she helped a 56-year-old patient known as Ms. S to die last year.

The case is the first to be made public in which a medical regulator has ruled on the contentious question of whether doctors should grant assisted deaths to patients who only satisfy all the criteria of the federal law after they stop eating and drinking.

“It was determined that Ms. S met the requisite criteria and was indeed eligible for medical assistance in dying, despite the fact that her refusal of medical treatment, food, and water, undoubtedly hastened her death and contributed to its ‘reasonable foreseeability,'” the college’s inquiry committee wrote in a Feb. 13 report. . . . [Full text]

 

Has stopping eating and drinking become a path to assisted dying?

Policy Options

Jocelyn Downie

Can patients, by stopping eating and drinking, make themselves meet the criteria for a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the requirement to access MAiD?

Ms. S. was a 56-year-old woman with advanced multiple sclerosis. In June 2016, when her suffering became intolerable and her state of decline was advanced as a result of her incurable medical condition, she asked Dr. Ellen Wiebe for medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Ms. S. had earlier declined potentially effective treatment. Dr. Wiebe concluded that Ms. S. met most of the eligibility criteria for MAiD in Canada: incurable condition, advanced state of decline in capability, and enduring and intolerable suffering not remediable by any means acceptable to her. However, as she did not believe that Ms. S. would die “in the foreseeable future,” she deemed her not to meet the final eligibility criterion for MAiD: “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.” Ms. S. asked again for MAiD in December 2016 and January 2017 and each time she was deemed ineligible on the same grounds. . . [Full Text]

Why would my terminally ill father be denied a medically assisted death?

The Globe and Mail

Paul Taylor

The question: My father was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer and wanted a medically assisted death. He was told he needed the approval of two health-care providers. One said yes, but the other said no because he “was not in any distress.” But that decision was so wrong. My father was a very stoic man, and was not one to complain. Did the doctor want him to break down in tears and beg to be put to death? My father died two weeks later in a hospice – instead of his home, the place where he wanted to die.

The answer: It has been over a year and a half since Parliament passed a law that makes medical assistance in dying – called MAID for short – legal across Canada. The story you tell reflects one of the many challenges in creating a standardized system to handle these requests and to ensure that patients and their families are properly informed.

One key failing in your father’s case is that he was not apparently told he could have asked for another assessment after the second MAID assessor turned him down. If another assessor had agreed that he was eligible, he could have proceeded with an assisted death.

It’s impossible to say whether his assessors were unaware he had this option or simply failed to mention it.

Whatever the case, “we need to do a better job educating health-care providers about what they must be disclosing to patients,” says Jocelyn Downie, a professor in the faculties of law and medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

In the meantime, it’s certainly worthwhile reviewing how the process is supposed to work. . . [Full Text]

Nurses’ perspectives on whether medical aid in dying should be accessible to incompetent patients with dementia: findings from a survey conducted in Quebec, Canada

G. Bravo, C. Rodrigue, M. Arcand, J. Downie, M.-F. Dubois, S. Kaasalaine, C.M. Hertogh,S. Pautex, L. Van den Block

Abstract

We conducted a survey in a random sample of 514 Quebec nurses caring for the elderly to assess their attitudes towards extending medical aid in dying to incompetent patients and to explore associated factors. Attitudes were measured using clinical vignettes featuring a hypothetical patient with Alzheimer disease. Vignettes varied according to the stage of the disease (advanced or terminal) and the presence or absence of a written request. Of the 291 respondents, 83.5% agreed with the current legislation that allows physicians to administer aid in dying to competent patients who are at the end of life and suffer unbearably. A similar proportion (83%, p = 0.871) were in favor of extending medical aid in dying to incompetent patients who are at the terminal stage of Alzheimer disease, show signs of distress, and have made a written request before losing capacity.


Bravo G, Rodrigue C, Arcand M, Downie J, Dubois M-F, Kaasalaine S, Hertogh CM,  Pautex S, L. Van den Block L. Nurses’ perspectives on whether medical aid in dying should be accessible to incompetent patients with dementia: findings from a survey conducted in Quebec, Canada. Geriatr Nurs. 2018 Jan 3. pii: S0197-4572(17)30319-1. doi: 10.1016/j.gerinurse.2017.12.002.

A “uniquely Canadian approach” to freedom of conscience

Provincial-Territorial Experts recommend coercion to ensure delivery of euthanasia and assisted suicide

Recommendations designed to broaden and maximize impact of Supreme Court ruling

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

The Experts’ recommendations are intended to extend and maximize the impact of the Carter ruling. They will effectively require all institutions, facilities, associations, organizations and individuals providing either health care or residential living for elderly, handicapped or disabled persons to become enablers of euthanasia and assisted suicide. This will entail suppression or significant restriction of fundamental freedoms.

The broader the criteria for the provision of morally contested procedures, and the more people and groups captured in the Experts’ enablers’ net, the greater the likelihood of conflicts of conscience.  Relevant here are recommendations to make euthanasia/assisted suicide available to mentally ill and incompetent persons, and to children and adolescents, even without the knowledge of their parents.

The Experts’ distinction between “faith-based” and “non-faith-based” facilities is meaningless. They impose identical obligations on both. All will be forced to allow homicide and suicide on their premises, or compelled to arrange for euthanasia or assisted suicide elsewhere.
Likewise, they recommend that objecting physicians be forced to actively enable homicide or suicide by providing referrals, arranging direct transfers or enlisting or arranging the enlistment of patients in a euthanasia/assisted suicide delivery system.

The Supreme Court did not rule that people ought to be compelled to become parties to homicide and suicide, but that is what the Experts recommend. This is not a reasonable limitation of fundamental freedoms, but a reprehensible attack on them and a serious violation of human dignity.

Other countries make euthanasia and assisted suicide available without attacking fundamental freedoms. In this respect, the Experts’ claim to have produced “a uniquely Canadian approach to this important issue” is regrettably accurate. They fail to provide any evidence that the suppression of freedom of fundamental freedoms they propose can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.


Table of Contents

I.    Background

I.1    Formation and work of the Advisory Group

II.    Overview of the Final Report

II.1    Moral/ethical unanimity
II.2    “Statement of Principles and Values”
II.3    Recommendations broadening the Carter criteria
II.4    Recommendations impacting freedom of conscience and religion

III.    The Experts’ “uniquely Canadian approach”

III.1     Expanded criteria and increasing likelihood of conflict

III.1.1    “Irremediable medical condition”.
III.1.3     Euthanasia approved for future suffering.
III.1.7     No waiting/reflection period.
III.1.10     Adolescents and children.
III.1.13     Euthanasia/assisted suicide by non-physicians.
III.1.15     Doctor shopping.
III.1.18     Physicians need not be present at suicides.
III.1.20     Euthanasia/assisted suicide wherever people live.
III.1.22     Families, caregivers may not be advised.

III.2    Institutions, associations, organizations

III.2.1     The meaning of institution.
III.2.3    All “institutions” must allow/arrange euthanasia/assisted suicide
III.2.6     All “institutions” must disclose policies.
III.2.8     “Institutions” may not manifest or enforce commitments

III.3    Objecting physicians: information, disclosure, non-discrimination

III.3.3    Objecting physicians must provide information.
III.3.8    Objecting physicians must disclose views and their implications.
III.3.11    Objecting physicians must not illicitly discriminate.

III.4    Objecting physicians must become critical enablers

III.4.4    Referral or direct transfer of care.
III.4.5    Referral to “system/third party.”
III.4.8    The Experts’ proposal and the CMA’s proposal.

IV.    Project response

IV.1    Expert recommendations broadening Carter criteria
IV.2    Expert recommendations and fundamental freedoms in general
IV.3    Expert recommendations and freedom of conscience

V.    Conclusion


Appendix “A”  Supreme Court of Canada, Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5

A1.    Carter criteria for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide
A2.    Carter and the criminal law
A3.    Carter and freedom of conscience and religion

Appendix “B”  Expert recommendations re: broadening Carter criteria

B1.     Expanding the Carter criteria

B1.1    “Grievous and irremediable medical condition” includes mental illness
B1.2    Suffering not a prerequisite
B1.3    Competence not a prerequisite: euthanasia for dementia
B1.4    Euthanasia and assisted suicide for children and adolescents
B1.5    Assessment, euthanasia and assisted suicide by non-physicians

B2.    Increasing the impact of Carter

B2.3    Doctor shopping
B2.4    No “waiting/reflection” period
B2.5    Physicians need not be present at suicides
B2.6    Euthanasia & assisted suicide in hospitals, hospices, etc.
B2.7    Families and caregivers may not be advised

Appendix “C”    Expert recommendations re: freedom of conscience and religion

C1.    Institutions

C1.1    Meaning of “institution”
C1.2    “Institutions” must allow or arrange for euthanasia or assisted suicide
C1.3    All “institutions” must disclose position on euthanasia and assisted suicide
C1.4    “Institutions” must not require patients/residents to give up “the right to access,” interfere with employees providing eutanasia or assisted suicide elsewhere

C2.    Objecting physicians/health care providers

C2.1    Must provide information on “all options”
C2.2    Must disclose views on euthanasia and assisted suicide
C2.3    Must not discriminate
C2.4    Must act as critical enablers

C2.4.1  Three alternatives
C2.4.2  Referral
C2.4.3  Direct transfer of care
C2.4.4  Transfer to “a publicly-funded system” or “third party”
C2.4.5  The Experts’ “system/third party” and the CMA’s “central service”

Appendix “D”    Canadian Medical Association on euthanasia and assisted suicide

D1.    CMA policy: Euthanasia and Assisted Death (2014)
D2.    CMA Annual General Council, 2015

D2.1    Surveys on support for euthanasia/assisted suicide
D2.2    Physician freedom of conscience

D3.    CMA rejects “effective referral”

Appendix “E”    International comparisons

E1.    Netherlands
E2.    Luxembourg
E3.    Belgium
E4.    Oregon
E5.    Washington
E6.    Vermont
E7.    California

Appendix “F”    An Act to Safeguard Against Homicide and Suicide

 

Beware of assisted-suicide zealots

National Post

Will Johnston

For at least a few more months, the Canadian medical system will continue to be a safe space, free of assisted suicide and euthanasia. But all that is about to change. In order to ensure our hospitals and palliative care centres remain places where patients feel safe and secure, we must respect doctors’ conscience rights, rather than listen to activists who seek to impose their one-size-fits-all policy on the rest of us.

For instance, the palliative care centres in Quebec that refuse to have anything to do with euthanasia, for reasons of medical judgment and ethics, have apparently angered Jean-Pierre Menard, the lawyer who helped write Quebec’s euthanasia law, Bill 52. The act specifically states that palliative care centres are not required to provide euthanasia service — but maybe to Menard, those were just soothing words to get the bill passed. Now Menard says money should be taken away from palliative services that won’t provide euthanasia on their premises. And the minister of health, Gaetan Barrette, has threatened to revoke the hospital privileges of doctors who won’t comply. . . . [Full text]

Doctors wrestle with role in assisted suicide

Huge ethical problem. Crisis of conscience. Religious conflict.

Chronicle-Herald

Mary Ellen MacIntyre

Like doctors across this country, those who practise medicine in Nova Scotia wonder what the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on physician-assisted death will mean to them.

“The silence from the (federal) government has been deafening and the province is waiting for Ottawa,” said Dr. Gus Grant, speaking to the 20th annual meeting of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia on Friday.

Grant, the organization’s registrar and CEO, told the gathering that physicians must take part in discussions on how the new law will affect their practice and their treatment of patients. . . [Full text]

 

Internal memos show how a handful of Canadian lawyers launched a national campaign against doctors’ conscience rights

LifeSite News

Steve Weatherbe

March 11, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Only a few weeks after Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons voted to compel the province’s doctors to refer and even perform operations they consider immoral, Saskatchewan’s College is scheduled to follow suit. But all Canada’s provincial governing bodies have been urged to get on the bandwagon as part of a national campaign from an obscure, federally-funded coterie of pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia academics.

According to Sean Murphy, director of the British Columbia-based Protection of Conscience Project, the pro-abortion Conscience Research Group is the prime mover behind efforts by the leadership of the Ontario and Saskatchewan medical professions to force their members to do abortions, assist at suicides, and euthanize their patients upon request.

“Based on the correspondence I’ve seen,” Murphy told LifeSiteNews, “there does appear to be a movement to impose this on all doctors in Canada.” . . .[Full text]

Saskatchewan physicians to be forced to participate in killing their patients

For Immediate Release

Maurice Vellacott, MP Saskatoon-Wanuskewin

OTTAWA – “The assault on freedom of conscience that is spreading across our country ought to be of grave concern to every freedom-loving Canadian ,” MP Maurice Vellacott said upon learning of yet another province (this time his own) that plans to force physicians to participate in morally objectionable procedures, including those that kill. “No health care worker should be forced against their will to take part in the killing of another human being. It would be a grotesque violation of their human dignity.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) has adopted in principle a policy[i]  which it basically “cut and paste” from the Conscience Research Group’s (CRG’s) Model Policy on Conscientious Objection in Medicine.[ii]

Mr. Vellcott asked a series of questions that paint a disturbing picture of the process, or lack thereof, that went into CPSS’s adoption of this objectionable policy:

“Was the CPSS aware that the drafters of the Model Policy, notably Professor Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University, are abortion and euthanasia activists?

Did the CPSS solicit input from anyone other than Professor Downie and her team at the CRG[iii] before adopting this policy?

Did the Saskatchewan College let on to anyone else that it was even considering this issue?

Is the CPSS aware that this policy was rejected by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA)?”

Mr. Vellacott explained: “Professor Downie and co-author Sanda Rodgers, in a 2006 guest editorial in the CMA Journal, ignited a firestorm of controversy when they falsely claimed that CMA policy requires physicians to make abortion referrals regardless of their conscientious/religious beliefs. As Sean Murphy, Administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project, points out in his recent news release, that claim was repudiated by the CMA and vehemently rejected by physicians. And partly as a result of that negative response, Professor Downie turned her attention to the regulatory Colleges to try to convince them to impose mandatory referral.”[iv]

Earlier this month, Mr. Vellacott spoke out against a similar draft policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). At that time, he expressed concerns that if the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Canada’s current ban on euthanasia or assisted suicide, then CPSO’s policy would mean Ontario’s physicians would have a ‘duty to refer’ patients for these life-ending procedures. He stressed that no other jurisdiction that currently allows euthanasia or assisted suicide imposes such an obligation. [v]

“While the CPSO policy is not identical to the CPSS/CRG Model Policy, in principle it is the same—a coercive attempt to involve physicians in the killing of some of the most vulnerable members of our human family,” Mr. Vellacott said. “The sheer fact that these Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons feel that a coercive policy of referral for these controversial procedures is necessary, is itself testament to the fact that there is something inherently problematic about these procedures in the first place. If they were procedures just like any other medical procedure, there’d be no need to coerce physicians into sacrificing a fundamental part of who they are—their very consciences—in order to provide them.”

“No good can come from forcing a doctor to practice medicine in a way they find morally reprehensible. Killing the consciences of our medical doctors will cause inestimable harm to the people of Canada and society as a whole.”

“One cannot help but wonder, what is the real motivation of those pushing us down this dangerous path?  And will we have the courage and wisdom and foresight to stop it?”

For information on providing input to CPSS on its draft policy, visit: http://www.cps.sk.ca/CPSS/CouncilAndCommittees/Council_Consultations_and_Surveys.aspx

 – 30 –

 For further information and comment, call (613) 992-1966 or (613) 297-2249; email: maurice.vellacott.a1@parl.gc.ca

[i] The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) is currently seeking input on a conscientious objection policy dubbed “Conscientious Refusal,”  which it has adopted in principle. This policy would require physicians who object to providing certain “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services” to “make a timely referral to another health care provider who is willing and able to accept the patient and provide the service.” In cases where the patient’s “health or well-being” would be jeopardized by a delay in finding another physician, the physician would be forced to provide the service even when it “conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.” See: http://www.cps.sk.ca/Documents/Council/2015%201%2019%20Conscientious%20Objection%20policy%20approved%20in%20principle%20by%20Council.pdf

[ii] http://carolynmcleod.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/04_Downie-McLeod-Shaw.pdf

[iii] http://conscience.carolynmcleod.com/meet-the-team/

[iv] “Saskatchewan physicians to be forced to do what they believe to be wrong,” Protection of Conscience Project news release, Jan. 27, 2015

[v] See Jan. 8, 2015 news release  and Backgrounder.