With the adoption of Bill C-14 last Friday, euthanasia and assisted suicide are now legal everywhere in Canada. Today, I would like to reach out to all physicians across the country: those I have come to know through trying together to prevent this terrible law from being adopted, and many more I don’t know but who share our disbelief that our government has decided to promote death as a solution to suffering. Many of you might be alone among your colleagues in opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide – or believe you are. There are more of us than you think.
There have always been people who want to die. In medicine we say they are suicidal, and our job is to help them to stay alive and to overcome the urge to die. Most do overcome it and are glad to be alive. Now some doctors are killing suicidal people instead of helping them live. There is no difference between a person who is suicidal because of pain, or disability, or terminal illness, and one who is suicidal for other reasons.
We’re told that a majority of Canadians want legal euthanasia. That is false. Most people don’t even know what “medical assistance in dying” means. They think it refers to comfort care at the end of life, or to withdrawing treatment. They don’t know that it means being killed by a doctor.
What people really want is: not to suffer more than they can bear; not to be alone with their suffering; to be treated with respect; to have access to the health care they need, including palliative care; and to remain in their own home when they get older or develop a disability. Why aren’t we addressing those needs better?
Last Friday the Government of Canada chose death as a solution to suffering. Despite the warnings from other countries (>>). Despite the dangers for our citizens. Despite the fact that people will be driven to request it out of fear, loneliness, guilt, or coercion by others. Even the Supreme Court admitted that there are inherent risks in such legislation that can only “be limited” by safeguards (Carter, par. 105, 114 and 117 >>) – but they certainly won’t be limited by the supposed safeguards in this law.
How the medical profession meets this challenge is up to us. We can give in to the new trend by saying “yes” to the patient who wants to die, referring him to someone else if we can’t stomach doing it ourselves.
Or we can care for him. Seriously. Going beyond what is required of us, listening more carefully, seeking creative solutions.
Euthanasia is cheap. And maybe it’s not easy now, but it will become easy if we get used to it. Let’s not get used to it, ever. History will judge us. A generation will come that looks back at ours with horror and disbelief if we adopt this new so-called solution to suffering.
All the doctors in Canada who are outraged by what is going on must stand together. Support each other. Share our expertise for our patients’ benefit. We must fight against any obligation to kill patients or refer them to be killed. But we mustn’t be afraid of caring for patients who might ask to die.
We must be there for the people who seek our help. We can call on colleagues if we lack the knowledge or resources to solve a problem. And once we’ve done everything we can, if our patient still says “Doctor, I want to be killed”, then and only then, will we say: “I’m sorry, that is not what I do. I’ll do everything in my power for you short of that. If you want to be killed, you’ll have to find someone else.”
There are forces that would coerce us to comply, to participate in killing patients. Some are even within our own profession. Remember that our strength is in numbers: we are the ones who are in harmony with medical ethics across centuries and across the world.
Seek out like-minded doctors and support each other in caring for patients until natural death.
In the coming weeks our Alliance, together with groups across the country who share our values and commitment, will be creating networks to bring us together.
Call on us.