By Will Johnston
Editor’s note. This first appeared in the National Post.
For at least a few more months, the Canadian medical system will continue to be a safe space, free of assisted suicide and euthanasia. But all that is about to change. In order to ensure our hospitals and palliative care centres remain places where patients feel safe and secure, we must respect doctors’ conscience rights, rather than listen to activists who seek to impose their one-size-fits-all policy on the rest of us.
For instance, the palliative care centres in Quebec that refuse to have anything to do with euthanasia, for reasons of medical judgment and ethics, have apparently angered Jean-Pierre Menard, the lawyer who helped write Quebec’s euthanasia law, Bill 52. The act specifically states that palliative care centres are not required to provide euthanasia service — but maybe to Menard, those were just soothing words to get the bill passed. Now Menard says money should be taken away from palliative services that won’t provide euthanasia on their premises. And the minister of health, Gaetan Barrette, has threatened to revoke the hospital privileges of doctors who won’t comply.
This is wrong. The doctors and nurses who devote themselves to the care of dying people reject euthanasia because it is a tempting substitute for diligence and creativity. People with exceptionally difficult end-of-life illnesses can have reversible palliative sedation, which preserves their life and completely alleviates their symptoms. This makes intentionally killing the patient an unnecessary, dangerous and irreversible intrusion.
Quebec’s hospice workers are wary of the risks and harms, which include causing distress among many dying patients and their family members who want safe spaces with no risk of interaction with euthanasia-minded doctors or nurses. (The broadly worded law would seem to allow for disabled or depressed people who are not dying to be killed as well, but these people are living in the community, not in palliative care centres.)
So why the temper tantrum from the euthanasia enthusiasts who designed Bill 52? We are seeing a winner-takes-all mentality among the activists who recently celebrated the Supreme Court’s “Carter” decision legalizing assisted suicide and possibly euthanasia. These activists are far from planning a peaceful coexistence with those many doctors and nurses who want nothing to do with killing or suicide.
After years of agitation by publicly funded activist Jocelyn Downie, an assault on the objectors’ rights to exist as doctors and nurses in the Canadian health-care system is underway. Downie and others claim that unless their version of medical ethics reigns, a patient’s choice to undergo euthanasia and assisted suicide is threatened.
But many patients would choose against having suicide pills and lethal injections available in their hospital. And Downie and company seem oblivious to the demoralization of doctors and nurses who are being told to do what they think is wrong because tax dollars pay for the buildings.
It is alarming to see an activist assault on medical judgment inside Quebecois politics, but truly dangerous when officials in the provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons buy in. Using bits of Downie’s preferred “model conscience policy” word-for-word, the college in Saskatchewan has been angling to coerce its members into referring patients for assisted-suicide and euthanasia services, just as Ontario’s college did a few months ago. This arm-twisting is notable for its pointlessness. In our totally connected world, suicidal people and others under their direction will have no more trouble contacting euthanasia providers than ordering pizza.
Our hospitals and hospices are national treasures that are awaiting an invasion by bitterly contentious new practices. This is faced with deep foreboding by many of us.
Editor’s note. Will Johnston is a family physician in Vancouver and chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC.