What Euthanasia Has Done to Canada

 By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The New York Times published an opinion column by Ross Douthat on December 3, 2022 titled What Euthanasia Has Done to Canada.

Douthat begins by writing about the defense of the pro-euthanasia ad by Simons, a Canadian fashion designer and retailer. Douthat writes

In an interview quoted in Canada’s National Post, the chief merchant of Simons stated that the film was “obviously not a commercial campaign.” Instead it was a signifier of a public-spirited desire to “build the communities that we want to live in tomorrow, and leave to our children.”

For those communities and children, the video’s message is clear: They should believe in the holiness of euthanasia.

In recent years, Canada has established some of the world’s most permissive euthanasia laws, allowing adults to seek either physician-assisted suicide or direct euthanasia for many different forms of serious suffering, not just terminal disease. In 2021, over 10,000 people ended their lives this way, just over 3 percent of all deaths in Canada. A further expansion, allowing euthanasia for mental-health conditions, will go into effect in March 2023; permitting euthanasia for “mature” minors is also being considered.

With the advance of euthanasia, Douthat asks a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized? Douthat continues:

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

And the evidence of a societal collapse is all around:

Indeed, according to a lengthy report by Maria Cheng of The Associated Press, the Canadian system shows exactly the corrosive features that critics of assisted suicide anticipated, from health care workers allegedly suggesting euthanasia to their patients to sick people seeking a quietus for reasons linked to financial stress.

In these issues you can see the dark ways euthanasia interacts with other late-modern problems — the isolation imposed by family breakdown, the spread of chronic illness and depression, the pressure on aging, low-birthrate societies to cut their health care costs.

Douthat then comments on the concept of euthanasia as a “human right.”

The idea that human rights encompass a right to self-destruction, the conceit that people in a state of terrible suffering and vulnerability are really “free” to make a choice that ends all choices, the idea that a healing profession should include death in its battery of treatments — these are inherently destructive ideas. Left unchecked, they will forge a cruel brave new world, a dehumanizing final chapter for the liberal story.

Douthat acknowledges that there are Liberals who oppose euthanasia but he suggests that a potent conservatism is needed to prevent euthanasia from spreading. He writes:

Yes, there are liberals, Canadian and American, who can see what’s wrong with euthanasia. Yes, the most explicit cheerleading for quietus can still inspire backlash: Twitter reactions to the Simons video have been harsh, and it’s vanished from the company’s website.

But without a potent conservatism, the cultural balance tilts too much against these doubts.

Conservatism is not required to oppose euthanasia but we need to call it what it is. Euphemistically calling euthanasia “MaiD” takes away the reality that euthanasia is an act of killing. You don’t need to be religious or Conservative to oppose killing. 

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.