By Alex Schadenberg
When people consider legalizing assisted suicide they usually think about those suffering from conditions so great that to cause their death seems compassionate.
I, too, am moved by such stories, but we are capable of providing proper care in even the most difficult circumstances.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia threaten the lives of vulnerable people by their very nature. Both acts require another person, usually a physician, to directly and intentionally cause the death of another person.
In the case of assisted suicide, a person provides the drugs or other means, knowing the intention is to cause one’s death.
In the case of euthanasia, the person physically acts by injecting or causing the death of another person.
Some people confuse euthanasia or assisted suicide with the refusal or withdrawal of medical treatment or the possible overdose with pain killing analgesics, such as morphine.
To refuse or withdraw medical treatment is not a form of euthanasia or assisted suicide, but rather the acceptance that death is near. In the case of an overdose with pain killing analgesics, the act is morally suspect only when it is intentionally done to cause death, rather than kill the pain.
To legalize either practice would mean a change in both the law and medical ethics by giving one person the right to be directly and intentionally involved in taking the life of another person.
We uphold the ethic of caring for people, not killing them.
Recently, a University of Utah study claimed legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia would not threaten the lives of vulnerable people.
This study was completed by Margaret Battin, a leading advocate of legalized assisted suicide.
Battin came to her conclusion by analyzing government reports from the Netherlands (where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal since 2002 and tolerated since the 1970s) and the state of Oregon in the United States, where assisted suicide became legal in 1998.
Battin’s conclusions were false on two counts.
First, government reports from Oregon do not contain the type of information to determine whether or not vulnerable people are truly at risk in Oregon.
These government reports are compiled from the reports submitted by the doctors who assist the suicide of their patients.
The information from these reports is not complete and is not followed up by third-party research to determine accuracy.
Battin simply stated the government reports from the Netherlands did not show a significant threat to vulnerable people, even though the last report from the Netherlands indicated that 550 people were euthanized without request.
Second, to state there is not a slippery slope concerning euthanasia in the Netherlands is false.
In the Netherlands euthanasia and assisted suicide began as a means of ending the lives of terminally ill people who were physically suffering.
People in the Netherlands now qualify for euthanasia or assisted suicide if they are physically and/or mentally suffering (chronic depression included). There is no limit based on terminal conditions. Infants born with congenital disabilities are euthanized if the parents request it. The practice of euthanasia without request continues.
To legalize assisted suicide in Canada would result in a watering down of medical ethics and would be a direct threat to the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
© Sun Media, November 5, 2007
– Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and guest speaker at the League’s annual meeting, November 8, 2007.