Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 6: Participation in Killing


It appears that, even where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal, the majority of physicians do not actually provide the services.  However, by establishing a purported legal “right” to euthanasia, ARELC generates a demand that physicians kill their patients, despite the high probability that a majority of physicians will not do so.

Often for purely pragmatic reasons, euthanasia supporters do not usually insist that an unwilling physician should be compelled to personally kill a patient.  Thus, the difficulty created by the law can be addressed by administrative measures that connect patients looking for euthanasia with the minority of physicians willing to provide it.  Nonetheless, physicians who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience will likely be expected to facilitate access to the procedure by helping the patient find a colleague willing to provide it.

However, objecting physicians not only refuse to kill patients, but also often refuse to do anything that they believe makes them morally responsible for the killing.  This includes actions that indirectly support or facilitate it.  Hence, it is likely that most of the attacks on freedom of conscience resulting from ARELC will be preciptated, not by a refusal to kill directly, but by this kind of refusal to participate indirectly in killing.

The Criminal Code demonstrates that a physician who refuses to facilitate the killing of a patient because he does not want to be a culpable participant in killing is acting well within well-established moral and legal norms reflected in our criminal law.  Further, the polices of professional medical organizations that forbid physician participation in capital punishment, torture, and female genital cutting indicate that it is not unreasonable for objecting physicians to refuse to facilitate euthanasia even indirectly.

On the contrary: refusing to participate, even indirectly, in conduct believed to involve serious ethical violations or wrongdoing is not aberrant behaviour.  It is the response expected of physicians by professional bodies and regulators in order to avoid physician complicity in such procedures. [Full Text]