Euthanasia is the voluntary act of ending a person’s life on their request. Assisted Suicide is the intentional providing of the information, advice and means that one needs to end his life. In Canada, the Supreme Court has struck down the law prohibiting assisted suicide. In February, the Court reasoned that withholding a person’s so-called right to death, interferes with their right to life. The irony being that a right to death, removes life, and all the rights that come with it.
Looking at the laws upheld in the various jurisdictions that support euthanasia, the safeguards present are slowly being liberalized and extended to the point where euthanasia will be available on demand for everyone who wants it. Those in favour of euthanasia, would argue, like Pabst Battin, professor of medical ethics at the University of Utah, who says, “the opposition to legalization of physician-assisted dying based on ‘slippery-slope’ arguments that predict wholesale abuse of assisted dying legislation is utterly unfounded; the objective data available from jurisdictions where legalization has taken place simply does not support these predictions.” Whether or not these claims are founded abuse does occur.
Data on abuses is hard to come by because when they occur, they are simply not reported or just covered up. This raises the question: do safeguards effectively protect those who may seem to be most vulnerable? Do they prevent the abuse of the law from those patients who are not qualified for euthanasia; and if the laws have been so reformed such that there are no restrictions on euthanasia, how did it get like that?
To answer these questions we must look at cases in which the barriers of the law were unlawfully overridden.
There are a plethora of cases in which the laws restricting euthanasia were either avoided or eventually removed to allow for more liberal circumstances. Unfortunately, the safeguards that are enforced seldom do what they were intended to do. Over time they act as ratification platforms on which other parties can broaden its already liberal restrictions.
Since our political and social arena is closely tied to the Americans, we could expect similar abuses to a similar law if it were introduced in Canada. The Oregon law allows physicians to prescribe medication if a patient is terminally ill and expected to die within six months. Misdiagnosis is common for those who are not terminally-ill. In 2000 when Jeanette Hall, a retired Oregon citizen, was told she had six months to live, she requested to die. Her doctor gravely disapproved of this. He convinced her to fight for life, and she is still alive today to talk about it. Not all doctors are like hers though. In 2001 Michael Freeland (63) suffered from 40-years of acute depression and died by physician assisted. He was not terminally ill, or competent to make this decision, yet a doctor illegally dodged this safeguard and prescribed the lethal medication, without a previous psychiatric consultation. From 2011-2014, less than three per cent of patients were referred for psychological evaluation or counselling before a prescription for a lethal dose was made. Patients are now going to doctors who will accept their plea for death when their first requests are opposed, effectively shopping for a physician who will agree to kill them.
Godelieva De Troyer was euthanized because of “sever psychological torment” that “could not be alleviated.” The 63-year-old woman had been plagued with depression her whole life. A failed relationship with her late-life lover and a broken relationship with her son brought her to the point where she wanted to die. Wim Distelmans, a top euthanasia doctor in Belgium, thought so. He, with the approval of two other doctors, euthanized Godelieva without contacting her children. His excuse: it was her “absolute wish to die.” In Belgium, doctors are legally allowed to euthanize patients if the request is voluntary, non-coerced, and if the patient is experiencing such grievous physical or psychological pain that nothing can successfully treat it. If the patient says that their pain cannot be treated, their word displaces medical examination and is seen as fact. Belgium’s law has been so liberalized that it allows euthanasia for non-terminal cases, and while numerous doctors rejected her request for euthanasia, she found three that agreed with her and was euthanized on April 19, 2012. Her son was notified of her death a day later.
In 2013, controversy over the safeguards of Belgium’s laws on euthanasia was sparked again when two 45-year-old twins, Marc and Eddy Verbessem, were euthanized. They were deaf and going blind, but were not terminal. The twins didn’t want to live with the psychological pain their impairments would cause. Carine Brochier from the European Institute of Bioethics said that, “It was completely outside the framework of the law in Belgium,” and, “the doctor should be in jail.” She then asked, “If all the people who have handicap ask for euthanasia, are we going to kill them?” Many doctors who euthanize patients in Belgium are against “fathering” their patients. Georges Casteur, the former president of the provincial council of the doctors of West Flanders, pointed out that his “colleagues are so against paternalism that they say, ‘You want to die? OK, I’ll kill you.’” The safeguards in the Belgium law mean nothing to doctors and are not enforced. The power of life and death is in their hands.
Alex Schandenberg from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition recently reported about a 24 year-old Belgium native (Laura) was approved to for doctor assisted death this summer because she felt that “life is not for her.” According to The Inquisitor, Laura suffered from suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation, are thoughts about how to kill oneself, which can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration, and does not include the final act of killing oneself. The majority of people who experience suicidal ideation do not carry it through. The author continues, “Due to these issues, she began seeking treatment in a psychiatric institution over the last three years. Laura says she first began considering euthanasia when she became friends with another woman named Sarah, who also ended her life about a year and a half ago.” Schandenberg believes “that means Laura may be treatable, but Laura has decided that the only acceptable treatment is death.”
In his book Exposing Vulnerable People to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Schandenberg uncovers the data concerning various abuses to euthanasia laws in Belgium and the Netherlands. These include: euthanasia deaths without request, unreported euthanasia deaths, and the experience of nurses with euthanasia. It exposes how vulnerable patient groups are dying by euthanasia without request and it proves that these deaths go undetected because the doctors are not reporting the deaths as a euthanasia death.
In the Netherlands things are seeming to quickly slip out of hand. Back in April, an 80 year old, incompetent women was euthanized against her doctor’s protest. She was incapable of expressing her will, but her family believed it was in her best interest to die. The judge blatantly disregarded her psychologist and doctor’s disapproval to euthanize this woman, and instead followed the opinion of the End of Life Clinic which petitioned with the family for euthanasia to occur. The law was devalued and disregarded by those who are supposed to uphold the law. Active euthanasia against free will is now tolerated. Recently the Dutch Pediatric Children’s Association said that the age restriction preventing young children from euthanasia should be removed because it discriminates against them. The safeguards on euthanasia are slowly being eroded into oblivion.
Those are the facts the Supreme Court of Canada ignored, and daily more cases arise that show just how “unsafe” these “safeguards” are. In a recent New Yorker article Rachel Avi said that, “the laws (surrounding euthanasia) seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation whose member derive comfort from knowledge that they control the end of their lives.” She goes on to say that “the laws have created a new conception of suicide as a medical treatment, stripped of its tragic dimensions.” The dimension being that these laws allow those who contemplate suicide a legal means to do so. When suicide becomes a socially accepted right, doctors won’t stop to offer an alternative to suicidal patients. Avi writes that “euthanasia (has become) a humanist solution to a humanist dilemma.” This solution idealizes a world that is void of suffering and pain. Society well euthanized is a society well perfected. It reduces the hardships faced in the human condition, to processes that must be controlled.
Assisted suicide desensitizes life’s value. Suffering and death become distant forces that are ruled by “free will.” But unfortunately, unlike so many other treatment methods, the effects of euthanasia cannot be reversed. The “side effects” are permanent and can never be changed. As each day passes more people are killed or commit suicide because these safeguards were thrown out of the picture. Those who suffer from severe depression and psychological disorders, those who are old and disabled, those who are incompetent to fend for themselves are being marginalized into a group where the only solution to ease their pain is death. “Dying with dignity”, that sounds like soft eugenics.