Interim StaffEuthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg got the sanctity of life message out beyond the typical pro-life crowds when he spoke to the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) on Feb. 19, 2004. SACPA is an organization connected to the University of Lethbridge that explores public policy issues.

During his excursion to Alberta, Schadenberg also spoke with two pro-life groups and two television stations. The theme of the talks were, “Euthanasia: Can Safeguards Protect Vulnerable Persons?”

The presentations began by explaining what euthanasia and assisted suicide is. Many people continue to believe that euthanasia is the act of “pulling the plug;” indeed, one television show began by asking the question, “Is it morally okay to pull the plug?”

Schadenberg explained that euthanasia is an action or omission of an action done with the intention of killing someone for reasons of mercy. An intentional action usually refers to injecting someone with a poisonous substance or intentionally overdosing someone, but might include carbon monoxide poisoning (as Robert Latimer had done to Tracy) or the use of another weapon such as a gun, plastic bag or pillow. An intentional omission of an action usually refers to intentionally starving and dehydrating someone who is not otherwise dying. Therefore, an unintentional action or omission such as an unintentional overdose of morphine is not euthanasia.

This is very different than the action of “pulling the plug,” because when life-support systems are withdrawn and death ensues, the death is usually caused by the person’s disease or condition.

Schadenberg explained that assisted suicide is different from euthanasia, because the former is an act one does to oneself but with the means of death being provided by another person, whereas euthanasia is an act or omission of an act intentionally done by another person.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are pushed upon the public by the fear of dying in pain and agony. Schadenberg explained that with current medical advances, dying in uncontrolled pain should rarely be happening anymore. It is very clear that in cases of uncontrolled pain, the patient and their families must demand better care and possibly a different doctor. Dying in uncontrolled pain should be an extremely rare occurrence today.

There are also new types of pain management medications that are in clinical trials, such as Tectin, which seems to be effective at controlling pain and suffering for people upon which morphine does not effectively work.

Depression, mental breakdown and mental illness, Schadenberg said, are the primary conditions that cause someone to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide. We know that depression is always treatable. The problem is that depression is difficult to diagnose. Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide will often result in the death of people who need good medical care for depression.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are primarily promoted under the guise of personal autonomy. Schadenberg explained that euthanasia and assisted suicide have nothing to do with personal autonomy, because both acts involve another person. Since acts of euthanasia and assisted suicide involve the active participation of another person, they cannot be acts of personal autonomy.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide also require the acceptance by society of someone being allowed to actively participate in the death of another person.

People with disabilities strongly oppose giving another person the legal ability to kill people. People with disabilities experience discrimination and negative stereotypes on a regular basis. Their lives are at risk if mercy killing is legalized.

Schadenberg said, “Mercy killing opens the door to the question: who is worthy to live and who should die?”

Vulnerable persons – people with disabilities, the elderly – who are dependent on others for their basic needs are threatened by a regime of mercy killing. They are particularly vulnerable to negative societal attitudes and the power of suggestion.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide changes the relationship that we have with our medical caregivers. It changes doctors from healers and caregivers to occasional killers. If we give them the power to actively kill their patients, will we always be able to trust our doctors?

The SACPA question period featured two men attempting to devalue Schadenberg’s presentation by claiming opposition to euthanasia is merely a religious or philosophical perspective. Schadenberg effectively stood his ground, exclaiming that the primary outcome of legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide would be the denigration and euthanizing of vulnerable persons.