Of dilemmas and tensions: a qualitative study of palliative care physicians’ positions regarding voluntary active euthanasia in Quebec, Canada

Emmanuelle Bélanger, Anna Towers, David Kenneth Wright, Yuexi Chen, Golda Tradounsky, Mary Ellen Macdonald

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract

Objectives: In 2015, the Province of Quebec, Canada passed a law that allowed voluntary active euthanasia (VAE). Palliative care stakeholders in Canada have been largely opposed to euthanasia, yet there is little research about their views. The research question guiding this study was the following: How do palliative care physicians in Quebec position themselves regarding the practice of VAE in the context of the new provincial legislation?

Methods: We used interpretive description, an inductive methodology to answer research questions about clinical practice. A total of 18 palliative care physicians participated in semistructured interviews at two university-affiliated hospitals in Quebec.

Results: Participants positioned themselves in opposition to euthanasia. Their justifications were framed within their professional commitment to not hasten death, which sat in tension with the value of patients’ autonomy to choose how to die. Participants described VAE as unacceptable if it impeded opportunities to evaluate and alleviate suffering. Further, they contested government rhetoric that positioned VAE as a way to improve end-of-life care. Participants felt that VAE would diminish the potential of palliative care to relieve suffering. Dilemmas were apparent in their narratives, about reconciling respect for patient autonomy with broader palliative care values, and the value of accompanying and not abandoning patients who make requests for VAE while being committed to neither prolonging nor hastening death.

Conclusions: This study provides insight into nuanced positions of experienced palliative care physicians in Quebec and confirms expected tensions between an important stakeholder and the practice of VAE as guided by the new legislation.


Bélanger E, Towers A, Wright DK, Chen Y, Tradounsky G, Macdonald ME. Of dilemmas and tensions: a qualitative study of palliative care physicians’ positions regarding voluntary active euthanasia in Quebec, Canada. J Med Ethics 2019;45:48-53.

Weakening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation

Thomas David Riisfeldt

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract

Opioid and sedative use are common ‘active’ practices in the provision of mainstream palliative care services, and are typically distinguished from euthanasia on the basis that they do not shorten survival time. Even supposing that they did, it is often argued that they are justified and distinguished from euthanasia via appeal to Aquinas’ Doctrine of Double Effect. In this essay, I will appraise the empirical evidence regarding opioid/sedative use and survival time, and argue for a position of agnosticism. I will then argue that the Doctrine of Double Effect is a useful ethical tool but is ultimately not a sound ethical principle, and even if it were, it is unclear whether palliative opioid/sedative use satisfy its four criteria. Although this essay does not establish any definitive proofs, it aims to provide reasons to doubt—and therefore weaken—the often-claimed ethical distinction between euthanasia and palliative opioid/sedative use.


Riisfeldt TD. Weakening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation. J Med Ethics 2019;45:125-130.

Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience

Christina Lamb, Marilyn Evans, Yolanad Babenko-Mould, Carol Wong, Ken Kirkwood

Abstract

Journal of Advanced Nursing

Aims: To explore the meaning of conscience for nurses in the context of conscientious objection (CO) in clinical practice. Design: Interpretive phenomenology was used to guide this study.

Data sources: Data were collected from 2016 ‐ 2017 through one‐on‐one interviews from eight nurses in Ontario. Iterative analysis was conducted consistent with interpretive phenomenology and resulted in thematic findings. Review methods: Iterative, phased analysis using line‐by‐line and sentence highlighting identified key words and phrases. Cumulative summaries of narratives thematic analysis revealed how nurses made meaning of conscience in the context of making a CO.

Impact: This is the first study to explore what conscience means to nurses, as shared by nurses themselves and in the context of CO. Nurse participants expressed that support from leadership, regulatory bodies, and policy for nurses’ conscience rights are indicated to address nurses’ conscience issues in practice settings.

Results: Conscience issues and CO are current, critical issues for nurses. For Canadian nurses this need has been recently heightened by the national legalization of euthanasia, known as Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. Ethics education, awareness, and respect for nurses’ conscience are needed in Canada and across the profession to support nurses to address their issues of conscience in professional practice.

Conclusion: Ethical meaning emerges for nurses in their lived experiences of encountering serious ethical issues that they need to professionally address, by way of conscience‐based COs.


Lamb C, Evans M, Babenko-Mould Y, Wong C, Kirkwood Ken. Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience. J Adv Nurs 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jan.13869

L’euthanasie au Canada: une mise en garde

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

Nous sommes des médecins canadiens consternés et concernés par les impacts – sur les patients, sur les médecins, sur la pratique médicale – de l’implantation universelle de l’euthanasie dans notre pays, définie comme un « soin de santé » auquel tous les citoyens ont droit (conditionnellement à des critères ambigus et arbitraires). Beaucoup d’entre nous sont si touchés par la difficulté de pratiquer sous ces nouvelles contraintes prescrites que nous pourrions être forcés, pour des raisons d’intégrité et de conscience professionnelle, d’émigrer ou de se retirer complètement de notre pratique. Nous sommes tous profondément inquiets du futur de la médecine au Canada. Nous croyons que ce changement sera non seulement nuisible à la sécurité des patients, mais également à la perception essentielle par le public – et par les médecins eux-mêmes – que nous sommes réellement une profession dédiée seulement à la guérison et au mieux-être. Nous sommes donc très inquiets des tentatives visant à convaincre l’Association Médicale Mondiale (AMM) de modifier sa position qui s’oppose à la participation des médecins à l’euthanasie et au suicide assist . . . . Continuer la lecture dans le World Medical Journal en anglais | Français

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.