Combating the plague of euthanasia

By Gordon Friesen, President, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Gordon Friesen

We who oppose all forms of assisted death rely on a large basin of dependable votes from people who believe that such practices are wrong: categorically, universally, absolutely. Many people, however, do not think that way. They believe that the very same act might be bad in one circumstance, but good in another.

This is extremely important from a political point of view because simple moral arguments do not sway such people. Instead, we must follow their logical path to its conclusion, and if possible, reveal conflicts with their own most cherished ideals, which might lead them to reconsider.

This is not easy work, but our friends in Connecticut have succeeded in respectfully reaching a common understanding with progressive voters, on the basis of disability rights. I believe that the same outreach can be undertaken towards those more conservative voters, whose support of assisted death is libertarian. For upon examination, current assisted death propositions are anything but libertarian.

To do this, of course, we must understand exactly what we are dealing with.

Freedom and Medicine

Jurisdictions legalizing assisted death can be roughly divided into two distinct groups, which I will refer to as “Freedom laws” and “Medical laws.”

Like its name implies, a Freedom law simply holds that people should have the right to choose a self-determined death. A Medical law, on the other hand, holds that it is the special condition of being ill or disabled which justifies the killing of these individuals. One is therefore characterized by an unconditional embrace of arbitrary personal liberty, while the other, in an attempt to protect the majority from perceived harms of precisely such freedom, and is bound by definitions, limitations and “safeguards”.

It would be natural to assume (and most people do so assume) that the wide open policies of a Freedom law would produce correspondingly greater numbers of assisted deaths; that there is a continuum between the two camps; that the farther we move along this imaginary line — from medicine to freedom — the more assisted death we will encounter.

Surprisingly, however, this is not at all true. In fact, the philosophical rupture is complete; there is no continuum, and as we shall see, it is the Medical law which racks up, by far, the greater number of deaths.

To illustrate this fact, let us compare Switzerland for Freedom, and Canada for Medicine.

Switzerland and Canada

For cultural reasons, the Swiss have informally permitted assisted suicide since time out of mind (although they only got around to legislating on the subject in 1937). According to that law, assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland –for anyone — as long as it does not proceed from “selfish motives”. If the goal can be considered “altruistic”, the act is permitted.

No particular medical condition is required, nor is the involvement of a physician. Furthermore, it is not the Swiss alone who benefit from these liberties, since a suicide-tourism industry has also grown up, for citizens of less permissive countries who travel to Switzerland, to die.

Canada, on the other hand, has always officially condemned assisted death. Permission has only recently been allowed. Access to euthanasia (the medically preferred method of assisted death) is restricted to defined medical circumstances, which, even though in constant “evolution” are nonetheless intended to limit this practice.

I believe that anyone first hearing that description, and asked to bet upon which country has a higher rate of assisted death, would unfailingly choose Switzerland. But that person would be wrong. And not wrong by a little. In actual fact, the Canadian ratio of euthanasia-to-total-deaths (as recorded in the Province of Quebec), is possibly five times1 that of assisted suicide among the Swiss, even when we include the numerous foreigners who are only briefly in Switzerland, and only for that purpose.

So how can we explain this seeming impossibility? In one word: mandates.

Canada has mandated that euthanasia be provided (as a medical benefit) to all of those who are eligible for it, including those who are incapable of consent. This mandate flows directly from the central principle, of medically justified euthanasia, that it is bad to kill people (generally speaking) but that it is good to kill people who are sick or disabled. This formulation might sound crass, but I believe there is no more polite way to express it.

Switzerland, on the other hand, enables assisted suicide as an arbitrary personal liberty. No judgment is made on the morality of the act. Anyone can seek assisted suicide, but no one can claim entitlement. Most importantly, the State does not pick sides and such a system can create no mandates. Hence the wall-to-wall penetration of euthanasia-think, euthanasia-speak, and State-mandated euthanasia practice, now familiar in Canada, has no equivalent in Switzerland.

What about the USA?

To place these facts in context, a large majority of Americans who support current legislation, enabling assisted death, believe that they are defending the cause of autonomous self-determination. In fact, it is widely assumed that to debate assisted death, at all, is to debate the limits of personal freedom.

And yet nothing could be farther from the truth! None of the different State Bills, recently passed or under consideration, has anything to do with freedom, and none would ever find favor as a Freedom law. Quite the opposite.

All of the legislation which must be dealt with, right now, clearly proceeds from the philosophical principles as a Medical law, Canada in the lead, which is not merely indifferent, but is positively hostile to personal freedom!

For these bills all begin with a restriction of liberty to particular medical conditions–that discriminatory “kiss of death” which allows (and promotes) the killing of the sick and disabled, but nobody else. Such legislation offers no support at all for the true autonomy of the vast majority –either for those who wish to die (but do not fit the criteria), or for those who are qualified, but do not. The real effect is only to validate choices and behaviors which coincide with the opinions, and prejudices, of the legislators themselves.

Moreover, all of these Bills seek to impose their desired outcomes through the use of sweeping and invasive medical mandates.

Such, for instance, is the New York requirement that all public health facilities allow assisted death, or the Minnesota claim that all doctors should “inform” eligible patients. These authoritarian directives do not advance patient autonomy! On the contrary. They serve to further restrict the autonomous liberty of the non-suicidal majority! For should such mandates be enacted, as in Canada, it would no longer be possible for non-suicidal patients to find public hospitals where they might properly be cared for, by professionals who are not actively conniving at their accelerated (cost-effective) death.

Opposing authoritarian mandates and defending personal liberty

There are many good people who uphold ideal notions of autonomous self-determination. And such people instinctively believe it is their duty to support any sort of legislation enabling assisted death. However (to state the obvious), sincere libertarians are not natural partisans of discriminatory and authoritarian mandates! They are not the people to quietly accept the monstrous sort of misrepresentation, and Bait-and-Switch, of which I maintain we are now the victims of with Canada’s euthanasia law.

If even a few of these can be brought to coolly reconsider the evidence, as presented here, I believe we may finally achieve a tipping point, in arresting that gruesome utilitarian death-agenda, which we presently see spreading like a rash across the civilized world.

Editor’s note. This appeared on the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition blog [] and is reposted with permission.