Some Canadian doctors are refusing to treat attempted suicides

By Michael Cook

Canada’s new euthanasia laws are perplexing doctors who have to deal with suicide attempts. According to the National Post , there have been a number of reports of doctors who refused to treat people who had tried to kill themselves. In the case of poisons, remedies were readily available.

Quebec’s College of Physicians has issued an ethics bulletin which says that last year, “in some Quebec hospitals, some people who had attempted to end their lives through poisoning were not resuscitated when, in the opinion of certain experts, a treatment spread out over a few days could have saved them with no, or almost no, after-effects.”

However, the bulletin says that this approach is mistaken: “If there is a life-threatening situation, you have to do whatever is possible to save a life, then you treat the underlying cause … From a moral point of view, this duty to act to save the patient’s life, or to prevent him from living with the effects of a too-late intervention, rests on principles of doing good and not doing harm, as well as of solidarity. It would be negligent not to act.”

Bernard Mathieu, president of the 500-member Association of Quebec Emergency Physicians, said that the new euthanasia law had probably confused some doctors. “It’s possible it has confused doctors a little bit,” he said. “Patients are being given the right to no longer live, and doctors are even being asked to help them in certain cases.”

Bioethics writer Wesley J. Smith was scathing in his comments about the news. “How many of those people would have been glad their lives were saved, as sometimes happens when suicides fail? We’ll never know because they are dead.”