Bioethicist put Physician-Assisted Suicide on Trial

Margaret Somerville

Rights and respect for life are the glue that binds society Toronto, Canada – “Legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia raises issues that impact on some of our most important shared values that provide the glue that binds us as society”, stated Margaret Somerville. She spoke November 22 to a full audience of over 200 people for the deVeber Institute’s Annual Lecture, at St. Michael’s Campus at the University of Toronto.

Somerville, one of Canada’s best known bioethicists, was considering how the physician-assisted suicide debate impacts our society. “The assisted suicide/euthanasia debate comes down to a direct conflict between the value of respect for human life, on the one hand, and individuals’ rights to autonomy and self-determination – the value of ‘choice’ – on the other.”

“But research shows that the reasons people want assisted suicide/euthanasia include fear of being abandoned – dying alone and unloved – and of being a burden on others. Surely our response to such fears shouldn’t be to help them kill themselves or to give them a lethal injection.”

Jean Echlin, an award-winning palliative care nurse, and associate professor of Nursing at the University of Windsor was there, and had this to say. “In my opinion Margaret Somerville is one of the most brilliant biomedical ethicists in Canada. She has a strong statement for doctors and nurses: kill the pain, not the patient. We must adhere to this or our society will suffer severe consequences including the loss of our humanity.”

The Catholic Register’s Michael Swan wrote

“For student Safina Allidina, an intern at the deVeber Institute, which sponsored Somerville’s lecture, learning from the McGill professor how euthanasia has escalated in European countries, where it was first envisioned as a rare event in need of legal protection, was eye-opening.

“’I didn’t realize how extreme it has gotten in the Netherlands,” Allidina said.’

“Somerville outlined the program of Dutch doctors in specially equipped minivans who now make house calls to euthanize patients at home. Sunnybrook Hospital’s Dr. Lucas Vivas felt he had to be there for Somerville’s talk.

“’It’s a pressing issue in our field,’ he said.”

The deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research is an independent Toronto-based research Institute, which carries out interdisciplinary research in bioethical issues around life issues.  Margaret Somerville is the Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and recipient of many awards, and widely published, including many articles and books on end of life issues.