Introduction

Webcast archive: Unintended victims of euthanasia

This week, we look at an article by Dr. Will Johnston in the Huffington Post.

Webcast archive: Unintended victims of euthanasia

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Unintended victims of euthanasia and assisted suicide
  • Conscience rights and palliative care

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

UNINTENDED VICTIMS OF EUTHANASIA AND ASSISTED SUICIDE

  • A recent article in the Huffington Post by Dr. Will Johnston describes two of the unintended, and probably ineligible victims, of the new euthanasia law in Canada.  (The article can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/will-johnston/assisted-dying_b_12168266.html)
  • Dr. Johnston tells the story of a friend whose neighbour told her his wife was going to get assisted suicide. “The neighbour said they would be going to a doctor in Vancouver to get this done. This baffled [the] friend, who had seen the woman outside her home, gardening. The neighbour made other comments suggesting that his wife would be dead soon. She had heart trouble.”
  • The friend tipped off her own nurse to get community services involved and the suicidal woman’s depression began to be addressed by a nurse and social worker. This apparently able-bodied woman did not go to Vancouver right away.
  • Dr. Johnston’s friend continues the story. “A few days later, in early June, the husband came over with a clipboard and a pen. He started by saying, ‘Damn government did not pass the [euthanasia] bill.’  He asked me to sign a form – that he needed two signatures for the doctor in Vancouver. He stated that none of their family and friends would sign.
  • “I told him I would not sign. He assumed that it was on religious grounds and I said ‘no it was experiential.’ He said ‘OK, then I will ask your husband.’ I told him he had better not even bring it up!”
  • After the designated day of the euthanasia, the friend noted the neighbour’s balcony was draped in black crepe.
  • When she bumped into him at the mailbox, the neighbour “complained that none of the neighbours had given condolences even though he made it obvious that [his wife] had ‘passed.’ He said that his wife had a nice last day, that she liked the walk around the seawall.”
  • According to Dr. Johnston, this appears to be medical homicide as a solution to depression, apparently facilitated by a husband with other interests.
  • Dr. Johnston tells of a second case. “Several weeks ago I was contacted by the wife of a young man with a neurological disease. The man had been assured by a euthanasia-performing doctor in Vancouver that he qualified for an assisted suicide. He was depressed and never ventured outdoors.
  • “At the patient’s invitation I visited him in his shared room in a dingy nursing home, a place once described to me as ‘a prison.’ He told me about his struggle to find a cure with massive doses of vitamins. He was less disabled than, for instance, Walter Lawrence, who works in Vancouver as a peer counsellor to spinal-cord injured people and others.
  • “But this patient had lost hope for the future and felt his existence was meaningless and that death was the only solution. This death-focused tunnel vision defines a suicidal depression, and any able-bodied person would be given psychological help to relieve it. This disabled man, who was nowhere near dying, was instead killed by a Vancouver physician.
  • “The physician’s rationale for circumventing the law, reportedly given over the phone before she met or examined the patient, was that he could easily get bed sores and then die of infection, so that his death “was reasonably foreseeable.”
  • “What surprised his wife was ‘how easy’ it was for her depressed, self-isolated husband to be killed under the new regime. What seems obvious is that the whole context of this death is not going to be reported to the Minister of Health or the Minister of Justice – there is no transparency to this system.
  • Dr. Johnston concludes: “Five years from now, the mandatory report is going to be full of bland and self-justifying statistics presented by the very doctors who have done the killing. By sanitizing these medicalized suicides and homicides with the now-familiar euphemisms about “medical aid in dying,” doctors will reassure the uninvolved public that nothing has gone wrong.”
  • People who support euthanasia often say opponents’ fears about medical aid in dying are exaggerated.  These are two cases where people who were seemingly ineligible – because they were vulnerable persons being induced to commit suicide based on their circumstances, and whose deaths did not appear to be reasonably foreseeable – were nevertheless killed.  But without the context of detailed information about their deaths, and people to care about that context, they will disappear into what Dr. Johnston calls the “bland statistics.”
  • We need more articles like Dr. Johnston’s.  Hopefully family, friends, neighbours, medical professionals, and others to tell the stories behind the statistics so we can understand the real consequences of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

CONSCIENCE RIGHTS AND PALLIATIVE CARE

  • The Ontario College of Physicians and Fraser Health in British Columbia are putting pressure on physicians to administer euthanasia, in violation of their conscience rights.
  • While this may seem, at first glance, to be an issue for doctors to deal with, it affects anyone who wants to be secure that their doctor will protect them from subtle pressure to have euthanasia or assisted suicide.
  • In British Columbia, Fraser Health Authority is putting pressure on hospices to perform euthanasia and assisted suicide on their premises.  This is a violation of the principles of hospice, to neither accelerate nor delay death.  If hospices are forced to perform euthanasia, they will no longer be places where people can feel secure against hastened death.
  • Meanwhile, the Ontario College of Physicians has decided that doctors who refuse to perform euthanasia must refer their patients to someone who will euthanize them.  Forcing the doctors to refer their patients for death will negate their conscience right not to kill their patients.  It will also disrupt the trust between doctor and patient, when a patient can’t be sure the doctor will always work to save her life.
  • You can help preserve doctors’ conscience rights and the safety of palliative care by writing to the college of physicians in your province.  For more information, email TVNDY at info@tv-ndy.ca.