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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

by Various

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  • Descriptive Title:
    A Joint Statement by Doctors and Lawyers
    A group of 100 physicians and lawyers issued this strong warning not to legalize physician assisted suicide or euthanasia in Canada. This statement has been issued in advance of the second reading of private members Bill C-407 scheduled for October 31, 2005. The Bill seeks to legalize physician assisted suicide. The document was signed by 61 physicians (comprising essentially all medical specialties including several professors, practicing in such diverse fields as family and internal medicine, oncology, surgery, anaesthesiology, psychiatry, neurology, radiology, medical ethics and palliative care) and is being sent to all MPs to alert them to the dangers of altering existing legislation. The document has also been endorsed by 39 lawyers. The statement warns that 'while euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide may superficially appear attractive, they have profound adverse effects on the social fabric of society, on attitudes towards death and illness and on attitudes towards those who are ill or have disabilities.'
  • Publisher & Date:
    LifeSiteNews.com, October 26, 2005

1. Introduction

Euthanasia is the deliberate act of putting an end to a patient’s life for the purpose of ending the patient’s suffering. Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is the death of a patient as a direct consequence of ‘help’ by a doctor. (For a definition of terms used, please see the end of this document.) Whatever the intentions claimed for euthanasia or PAS, this is nothing less than killing a patient.

2. Sanctity or inviolability of life

3. Patient autonomy will decrease once euthanasia or PAS has been legalized

Despite all the claims made about ‘patient autonomy’ by proponents of euthanasia, ultimately, one or more doctors will inevitably end up making a value judgment, which they should not make, as to whether a patient’s quality of life is such as to preserve or terminate his or her life.

4. We are convinced that the following would happen if euthanasia became legalized:

4.1 Euthanasia, once legalized, could not be effectively controlled. If euthanasia became legal, patients would be killed who had not requested to die.

4.2 To legalize euthanasia or PAS would put immense pressure on those who are ill and especially those who feel that – due to illness, disability or due to expensive treatment required – they have become a burden to others and to society, especially to relatives.

4.3 To legalize euthanasia or PAS would bring about profound changes in social attitudes to illness, disability, death, old age and the role of the medical profession. Once euthanasia is legalized, euthanasia will become increasingly an accepted ‘treatment option’ alongside the currently standard medical or surgical treatment.

4.4 To legalize euthanasia and PAS will ultimately undermine medical care, especially palliative care and seriously undermined the doctor-patient relationship. It is claimed that euthanasia is about the ‘right to die’ a good death. However, euthanasia is not about the ‘right to die’. It is about giving doctors the right to kill their patients. We as physicians refuse to become the executioners of our patients.

5. The ‘wish to die’ is rarely a truly autonomous decision

The wish to die is more often an expression of depression, pain or poor symptom control rather than a genuine wish to die. The desire to die and the will to live frequently changes over time, especially if pain and depression have been treated.

6. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide – not the ‘good death’ hoped for

One of the main arguments in favour of euthanasia and PAS is that it gives patients the chance of dying a ‘good death’. However, the reality is very different. Dutch research shows that very distressing complications occur not infrequently when euthanasia and PAS are carried out. Rather than dying quickly, some patients took several days to die.

7. Conclusion

While euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) may superficially appear attractive, they have profound adverse effects on the social fabric of our society, on our attitude towards death and illness and on our attitude towards those who are ill or have disabilities.

Euthanasia, once legalized, cannot be adequately controlled. The Dutch experience shows, that around 1,000 patients are killed every year against their wishes, or, without consent, by their doctors. Euthanasia, initially intended for a certain group – for example patients with terminal illness – will soon spread to other groups, to those who are ill or may even only consider themselves to be ill, and even to newborn babies with disabilities.

Euthanasia and PAS place increasing pressure to agree to be killed on those who are elderly or sick or who consider themselves – due to disease, disability or expensive treatment – to be a burden to relatives or to society. The ‘right to die’ soon becomes the ‘duty to die’.

With increasing acceptance of euthanasia and PAS, there will be a change in perception of illness, death and medical treatment. The example of legalized abortion shows what happens. Every woman who finds herself pregnant now has to consider whether to continue with the pregnancy or to opt for an abortion. Similarly, once legalized, euthanasia or PAS will become a ‘treatment’ option for those who are diagnosed with any illness, not just a terminal one, and who consider themselves to be ill.

It is always cheaper (and quicker) to kill than to treat. To legalize euthanasia will undermine medical care and especially palliative care. Where euthanasia and PAS have been legalized (for example in the Netherlands or in Oregon) the provision of palliative care appears to be poor or inadequate.

To legalize euthanasia will adversely affect the doctor-patient relationship. Despite all possible legal safeguards, patients will be wondering whether the doctor is wearing the white coat of the healer or the black hood of the executioner. As physicians, we never want to become the executioners of our patients.

As physicians and lawyers we strongly oppose any attempts to legalize euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

Authors of this report

Hans-Christian Raabe, MD, MRCP (UK), MRCGP (UK), General Practitioner; John Shea, MD, FRCP (C), Radiologist; W. Joseph Askin, MD, FCFP, Family Physician; Christena Beintema, MD, General Practice; Michael Bentley-Taylor, Cardiologist; Henry John Block, BA, MD, FRCPC, Pathologist; Riina Ines Bray, BASc, MSc, MD, CCFP, MHSc (C), Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto; Howard Bright, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Practice, UBC; André Bourque, MD, Head of Family Medicine and Interim head of Palliative Care, Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal; Luke Chen, MD, Internal Medicine Resident; John A. J. Christensen, MD, FRC.P(C), FRANZCP; T.B. Costin, MD, Family Medicine; Dr. Kathleen W. Craig, MB, ChB, General Practitioner; Dr. William S. R.Craig, BM, BCh, FRCS (C), Gynaecologist; Donald J. Curry, MD, MPH, CCFP; Anna Felstom, MD, FRCP (C), Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan, Psychiatry; Randall W. Friesen, MD, FRCSC, FICS, Clinical Lecturer in Surgery, University of Saskatchewan; Catherine Ferrier, MD, CCFP, FCFP, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University; Sheila Rutledge Harding, MD, FRCPC, Professor of Hematology, University of Saskatchewan; Robert Hauptman, BMSc, MD, Chief, Department of Family Medicine Sturgeon Hospital; Kevin M. Hay, MB, BCh, BAO, MRCPI, MRCGP, CCFP, FCFP, DCH, DObst, DRCOG, Family Physician; Christin Hilbert, BMedSc, MD, CCFP, Family Physician; Hon. Dr. Grant Hill, P.C.; David Hook, MD FRCP (C), Anesthesiologist; Will Johnston, MD, Co-chair, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC; Lydia Kapiriri, MD, MMed, PhD, Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto; James Cecil Kennedy, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Oncology, Queen's University, Kingston; Margaret C. Keresztesi, MD, CCFP, Family Physician; Kathleen Kerr, MD, Diploma Environmental Health; David Kopriva, MDCM, FRCS(C), Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Saskatchewan; George Kubac, MD, FRCP(C), FACC, Cardiologist; W. André Lafrance, MD, FRCP(C), Dermatologist; Fok-Han Leung, MD, Family Medicine; Tim Lau, MD, FRCP(C), Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Ottawa; Dr François Lehmann, Director of Family Medicine, Université de Montréal; Rene Leiva, MD, CM, CCFP (CoE), Palliative Care; Barbara Ann MacKalski, MD, FRCP(C), Internist; Karen L McClean, MD, FRCPC, Infectious Diseases Specialist; Dr McFadden, Family Medicine; William Mitchell-Banks, BM BCh, D(Obst)RCOG, FCFPC; Dr A Mol; John M Mulhern, BA, BDentSC, LDM MSD, CertEndo, Endodontist; Dr. A.J.B.Nazareth; Ruth Oliver, MB,ChB, FRCP (C), Psychiatrist; H Robert C Pankratz, MD, Palliative Care Physician; Mikulas Pavlovsky, MD, General Practitioner; Donald J. Peters, Assistant Professor, Anesthesia, University of Manitoba; Paul Pitt, MD, CCFP, FCFP, Lecturer DFCM, University of Toronto, Past Chief of Family Medicine; Anke Raabe, MD, FRCR (UK), Radiologist; Antoine G. Rabbat, MD, FRCSC, FACS, Vascular and Thoracic Surgeon; Paul Ranalli MD, FRCP (C), Neurologist; Martin Reedyk, MD; Edwin John Rix, MB, ChB, LMCC, CAFC; Carmelo Scime, MD, Family Physician; Dr. Graham Stratford, General Practitioner; Dylan A. Taylor, MD, FRCP (C), FACC, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Alberta; Karen Thompson, MD, Ophthalmologist; Peter Thompson, MD, Anaesthetist; Edward J. Tworek, MD, FRCS (C), FACS, FICS, RCMP Health Services Officer; R L Walley, FRCSC, FRCOG., MPH (Harvard), Honorary Research Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Memorial University of Newfoundland; John K. Wilson MD, FRCP (C), Cardiologist.


Ruth Ross, Barrister/Solicitor, London; Esther Abraham, Barrister/Solicitor, Mississauga; Peter Anderson, Barrister/Solicitor, Vancouver; Chris Becker, Barrister/Solicitor, Abbotsford; Norman J. Bossé, Barrister/Solicitor, Saint John; W. Ted Catlin, Q.C., Barrister/Solicitor, Vernon; Stellanie M. Criebardis Hyer, Barrister/Solicitor, Calgary; Teresa Douma, Barrister/Solicitor, Elmira; Paul Faris, Lawyer, Medicine Hat; Marie-Louise Fast, Barrister/Solicitor, Richmond; Peter Fenton, Barrister/Solicitor, Saskatoon; David Garabedian, Law Student, Oak Brook College of Law; Nancy Toran Harbin, Barrister/Solicitor, Toronto; Richard M. Harding, Barrister/Solicitor, Calgary; Gary Hewitt, Sessional Lecturer, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia; Sandra M. Jennings, Lawyer & Mediator; J. Scott Kennedy, Barrister/Solicitor, Winnipeg; Walter Kubitz, Barrister/Solicitor, Calgary; C. Gwendolyn Landolt, Barrister/Solicitor; Richmond Hill; Elizabeth Lockhart, Barrister/Solicitor, Ottawa; Ron McDonald, Barrister/Solicitor, Lethbridge; Lisa McManus, Lawyer, London; David W. McMath, Barrister/Solicitor, Fredericton; Michael Menear, Barrister/Solicitor, London; Dr. Bradley Miller, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario; Peter Mogan, Barrister/Solicitor, Vancouver; Mark Mudri, Lawyer, Adelaide (AUS); JoAnne Nadeau, Lawyer, Ottawa; Paul Nicholson, Barrister/Solicitor, Oshawa; Joseph Paradiso, Barrister/Solicitor, Woodbridge; Charles J. Phelan, QC, Barrister/Solicitor, Winnipeg; Brian D. Scott, Retired Lawyer, London; Roy Sommerey, Barrister/Solicitor, Kelowna; Shawn M. Smith, Barrister/Solicitor, White Rock; Geoffrey Trotter, Law Student, University of British Columbia; Ken Volkenant, Barrister/Solicitor, Surrey; Andrea Minichiello Williams, Barrister, UK; Prof. William Wagner, Director - Center for Ethics and Responsibility, Cooley Law School, (USA); Mervyn White, Barrister/Solicitor, Orangeville.

Some definitions

All definitions of euthanasia agree that euthanasia means shortening the patient’s life usually based on the belief that the patient would be better off dead.

Further Reading. John Keown Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy : An Argument Against Legalisation, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

October 2005

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