By Alexander Schadenberg, executive director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Editor’s note. The following is excerpted from Mr. Schadenberg’s blog at http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2011/11/carter-case-assisted-suicide-talking.html#more
1. Is it true that Canada has rejected assisted suicide and euthanasia?
Yes. Just last year, Parliament defeated Bill C-384, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. The vote was 228 to 59.
2. What is the Carter Case?
Carter vs. Attorney General of Canada is a constitutional challenge to Canada’s laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Carter also seeks to legalize these practices as a medical treatment.
3. When was Carter filed?
Carter was filed on April 26, 2011. On August 15, 2011, Gloria Taylor was added as an additional plaintiff via an Amended Notice of Civil Claim.
4. What is assisted suicide?
“Assisted suicide” means providing a person with the knowledge or means to commit suicide. When the assistance is provided in whole or in part by a doctor, the practice is “physician-assisted suicide.”
5. How does Carter define physician-assisted suicide?
Carter’s Amended Notice of Civil Claim states:
“‘physician-assisted suicide’ means an assisted suicide where assistance to obtain or administer medication or other treatment that intentionally brings about the patient’s own death is provided by a medical practitioner . . . or by a person acting under the general supervision of a medical practitioner . . .”
6. Would a family member be allowed to participate in a patient’s suicide under this definition?
Yes. In the context of medical treatment, a person acting “under the general supervision of a medical practitioner” includes a family member. This would typically be in a home setting. An example would be an adult child who administers medication to his parent under the general supervision of a doctor.
7. Would a family member be allowed to participate in a patient’s suicide without direct supervision?
Yes. Carter’s Amended Notice of Civil Claim requires “general supervision” of a person who is not a medical practitioner: No witnesses or other direct oversight is required when the lethal dose is administered. The medical practitioner is not required to be present when the lethal dose is administered and/or at the time of death
8. Would legalization of assisted suicide under Carter’s Amended Notice of Civil Claim apply to people who are not dying?
Yes. Carter’s Amended Notice of Civil Claim seeks to legalize assisted suicide for people who are “grievously and irremediably ill.” The Amended Notice of Civil Claim does not define this term, but gives these examples: “cancer, chronic renal failure and/or cardiac failure, and degenerative neurological diseases such as Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis.” People with these conditions can experience good quality lives for years and even decades. Doctors can also be wrong about disease prognosis. Some people, for example with cancer, recover with treatment.
9. Is it true that most states in the United States have rejected assisted suicide?
Yes. There are just two states where physician-assisted suicide is legal: Oregon and Washington. In a third state, Montana, there is a court case that gives doctors who assist a patient’s suicide, a potential defense to a homicide charge. In the United States, no law to allow assisted suicide has made it through the scrutiny of a legislature despite more than 100 attempts. This year, assisted suicide laws were defeated in the states of Montana, New Hampshire and Hawaii. This year, the state of Idaho enacted a statute to strengthen its law against assisted suicide. The vote was nearly unanimous.
10. If Carter were to limit assisted suicide to “terminal” patients, would the practice be limited to people who are dying anyway?
No. “Terminal” patients are not necessarily dying. Consider, for example, Oregon resident Jeanette Hall, who was told that she had six months to a year to live and who wanted to die via assisted suicide. It is now over 11 years later. She states:
“I wanted to do what our [assisted suicide] law allowed, and I wanted my doctor to help me. Instead, he encouraged me not to give up, and ultimately I decided to fight my disease. . . . If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead.” …
15. How would legal assisted suicide empower the Canadian healthcare system to the detriment of individual rights?
Consider this example from Oregon where legalization of assisted suicide has allowed the Oregon Health Plan to steer patients to suicide.
The most well known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Each wanted treatment. The Plan offered them assisted suicide instead. Neither saw this scenario as a celebration of their individual rights. Wagner said: “I’m not ready to die.” Stroup said: “This is my life they’re playing with.”
Wagner and Stroup were steered to suicide. Moreover, it was the Oregon Health Plan, a government entity, doing the steering. If assisted suicide were to be legalized in Canada, the Canadian health care system would be similarly empowered to steer patients to suicide.
With legal assisted suicide, the healthcare system, doctors and the government would be empowered, not individual patients.
16. How does the Carter case propose to protect doctors and family members at the expense of individual patient rights?
In Carter, the Amended Notice of Civil Claim argues that doctors and other persons assisting a suicide should have a constitutional right to do so. The Amended Notice of Civil Claim states:
“The right to liberty of persons who assist or support a grievously and irremediably ill person to obtain physician-assisted dying services [physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia] must necessarily be protected in order to give meaning to the s. 7 life, liberty and security of the person rights of grievously and irremediably ill persons.”
With doctors and other assisting persons protected with a constitutional right, a patient subjected to their actions would likely be left with little or no recourse.
For more detailed information and references, see “The Carter Case and Assisted Suicide: A Recipe for Elder Abuse and a Threat to Individual Rights,” available at http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2011/11/carter-case-and-assisted-suicide-recipe.html.