In B.C., decisions will be made on a case by case basis

Sue Rodriguez last her fight for a legally assisted suicide at the Supreme Court of Canada, but she may have, in effect, won the right to have someone help her kill herself.  The B.C. Attorney General will most likely not prosecute any individual who helps her, according to pro-euthanasia activists.

The guidelines, issued by Attorney General Colin Gabelmann on November 4, state that cases involving euthanasia or assisted suicide will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

They will be prosecuted where there is “provable intent” to cause death, a substantial likelihood of conviction, and a public interest in seeing the case bought to trial.  The policy states that palliative treatment to ease pain and suffering may hasten death, and says this is not illegal if carried out within recognized medical standards.

Ernie Quantz, the assistant attorney-general of criminal justice, said that “suffering” could well be interpreted to include “severe emotional distress.”

It seems that the B.C. Attorney General’s department (and others) are deliberately misinterpreting the meaning and philosophy of palliative care, and redefining it as a form of passive euthanasia.

Dr. John Scott, director of the Ottawa Regional Palliative Care Programme, predicted that this would happen in September 1992.  In a presentation to the Human Life Research Institute, he said, “Over the next decade, I predict the term ‘palliative care’ will be ‘hijacked’ by the euthanasia lobby.  The deception is spreading that a person can have ‘death with dignity’ only by choosing death through active or passive euthanasia.  Unless we issue a strong challenge, palliative care may soon become a euphemism or synonym for choosing death, thus making a mockery of its origin as the active alternative to euthanasia.”  Palliative care, explains Dr. Scott, involves “a commitment to decrease suffering and to increase the quality of life and not the length of life when illness is no longer responding to curative or prolonged therapies.  It is care that enables a person to live as fully as possible until they die.’

“Both lay and professional press, confuse the Canadian public,” continues Dr. Scott, “by associating the term ‘palliative care’ with actions that hasten death.  This is a serious misunderstanding.  Good palliative care and the use of techniques and drugs to relieve pain do not hasten death.”

“Eighteen years ago, when palliative care began in Canada, morphine taken orally was first introduced for the control of cancer pain.  At that time, doctors and patients had false fears that morphine would precipitate addiction, sedation and rapid death.  After years of education and demonstration, we have decreased much of this misunderstanding and fear.  Now, however, we are faced with the possibility of seeing all of this work go for naught.  The drugs that we depend on for fine-tuning symptom control can be over-prescribed in order to hasten death.  A drift into euthanasia using the drugs of palliative care will wipe out the advances of the last two decades and lead to widespread pain and other suffering.”

Sue Rodriguez’s lawyer, Chris Considine, recognizes that these guidelines twist the meaning of palliative care enough to please the pro-euthanasia lobby.  “I know Sue Rodriguez, and some others, feel it’s a positive step forward,” he commented.

Dr. Scott Wallace, medical director for the Right to Die Society, said, “The whole world knows all the details (of Sue Rodriguez’s case) and I could not see any prosecutor in his right mind charging someone with helping Sue Rodriguez to die.”  Dr. Wallace said at one point that he would assist Ms. Rodriguez, but he later changed his mind.  However, there is still said to be an unnamed doctor who is willing to help her kill herself.

The Vancouver Province roundly condemned Attorney General Gablemann’s guidelines:  “Plainly, Gablemann is turning a blind eye to euthanasia.  How soon before we turn not one but two blind eyes?  How long before new rules allow the acutely ill or the aged to slip through the back door or, worse, wheel through the front?

It would be logical to assume that public interest would be high in seeing a prosecution brought forward against anyone involved in assisting Ms. Rodriguez’s suicide, should it happen.  However, the many court cases involving Henry Morgentaler over the years show that convictions can be difficult to obtain.  In Ontario, in 1985, then Attorney General Ian Scott refused to proceed when police again laid charges against Morgentaler who was operating his abortuary illegally at the time.