pro-lifers still concerned about nutrition and hydration, ‘compassionate homicide’ issues

By Paul Tuns
The Interim

On June 6, the Senate social affairs committee released its five-year update of On Life and Death. The report, entitled Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian, recommends improving palliative care, but it fails to address some key issues, leaving open certain questions on doctor-assisted suicide and so-called mercy killing.

Generally, pro-lifers are happy with the report. Mark Cameron, coordinator of the Care in Dying Coalition, told The Interim that considering “we were expecting the worst in December, we are extremely pleased with this report.”

He said if the recommendations are implemented, there will be a decrease in support for euthanasia. Studies have found that pain, suffering and the resulting depression often fuels support for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Cameron urges the federal and provincial governments to support the recommendations and put money into increasing palliative care research, training and access.

Jean Echlin, a nurse practitioner in palliative care and vice-president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Ontario, told The Interim that “good pain and symptom control is the best alternative to euthanasia.” She hopes people will press the federal and provincial ministers of health to implement the recommendations and urges governments to work with professional organizations, including the Canadian Palliative Care Association, to bring about the necessary changes.

Echlin said it is not just the terminally ill but people who suffer from chronic or progressive illnesses that should have access to quality palliative care. She is glad the report recommends that medical professionals work with other care-givers and professionals including therapists, dieticians, chaplains, volunteers and family to take a holistic approach to relieve pain and depression in patients. She said Canadians have a right to quality palliative care to provide respite from suffering, not death. “Dignity is not found in personal autonomy in death,” she said, “but in the experience of loving and caring for people.”

Despite the praise from some pro-lifers, the report still has several flaws. Peter Ryan, president of Campaign Life Coalition New Brunswick and a witness before the Senate committee, told The Interim that while generally the report was good and the focus on palliative care was a surprising development, pro-lifers should be cautious. He notes the report did not reject the call for a new third category of murder, so-called “compassionate homicide,” but remained ominously silent on the matter.

Nor did the report address the problem of inappropriate withholding and withdrawal of treatment, which is “a concern because Senator [Sharon] Carstairs’s Senate Bill S-2 is actual legislation that pushes non-treatment broadly based [it would allow the withholding of nutrition and hydration] and would give a legal mandate to denying people basic medical care and treatment.” The failure to address the issue could lead the committee considering S-2 to “gloss over the distinction between non-treatment and euthanasia.”

Ryan also was concerned that among the ethical principles for end-of-life care the report cited, it failed to take note of the most important one, respect for life. Ryan wonders how we care for people properly if we do not respect the sanctity of their lives. “It is not a matter of preserving life at all costs, but of not ending life prematurely.”