Webcast archive: FAQ – Problems with legal assisted suicide?

This week, we discuss problems with assisted suicide in places where it has been legalized.

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

  • FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: If jurisdictions that have legalized assisted suicide haven’t had any problems, why shouldn’t we just follow those models?

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

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: If jurisdictions that have legalized assisted suicide haven’t had any problems, why shouldn’t we just follow those models?

  • This is not a settled issue.
  • Though the courts in the Carter case found no reason for concern over potential abuse in jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, the Irish Supreme court did not agree.  In an April 2013 decision, that court affirmed the lower court’s assessment of the same evidence used by the BC court in the Carter case.  The Irish Supreme Court in the Fleming case found that there was proof that elders and people with disabilities are at risk of abuse under euthanasia and assisted suicide laws.
  • The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published an article in June, 2010 that looked at physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium. Their findings include:
    • Of the 208 physician assisted deaths, 66 were without an explicit request
    • Of those 66 deaths; the decision was not discussed with 77.9% of those patients.
  • In other jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal
    • Though doctors are supposed to report writing lethal prescriptions or performing euthanasia, there’s no way to ensure they do.  Data are based only on those who file reports, and cannot track euthanasia that is not reported.
    • Problems have been documented in the media, and by studies that track deaths by cause of death.
  • Studies that only look at reported euthanasia give an unrealistic picture of the situation.  In 2010, 23% of the medically-assisted deaths in the Netherlands were not counted; the figure is even higher in Belgium.
  • The data from Oregon and other places that allow physician assisted suicide is unreliable because the facts are hidden and distorted:
    • Assisted suicide deaths are not listed as suicides, but as due to the underlying illness.
    • There is no data collected from doctors who refuse requests for assisted suicide (why they refused, what happened to the person afterwards).
    • Though doctors are supposed to report writing lethal prescriptions, there’s no way to ensure they do.
    • Drugs are not tracked after the prescription is dispensed.
    • After annual statistical reports are produced, documentation is destroyed, preventing further analysis.
  • There are few studies of the impact of euthanasia laws on application of “do not resuscitate” orders (with or without permission).  Use of these orders without permission is already a major problem.

Q: Won’t legalizing and regulating assisted suicide reduce the number of wrongful deaths?

  • It would be more accurate to say that more deaths are counted and the criteria are enlarged to include more people and practices.  If we’ve learned anything, it’s that abuses continue where assisted suicide is legal.  We’ve also seen that the eligibility criteria are applied more and more loosely, and that the laws are changed to allow more and more people to be euthanized.  That is called a “slippery slope.”