‘Choice’ can be an il­lu­sion

Pro­posed bill could see those who are very ill deemed un­able to refuse as­sisted death

Ottawa Sun - - COMMENT - ARCH­BISHOP TER­RENCE PREN­DER­GAST Guest colum­nist Pren­der­gast is Arch­bishop of Ot­tawa and Bishop of Alexan­dria-Corn­wall twit­ter.com/archter­en­tius

I ex­tend my sin­cere con­do­lences to the loved ones of Au­drey Parker.

She died be­fore her time in Halifax on Nov. 1 in a sui­cide as­sisted by an­other per­son she had ar­ranged be­cause, she main­tained, if she be­came in­com­pe­tent, she would not qual­ify for eu­thana­sia in Canada.

Painful cancer had spread from her bones to the lin­ing of her brain.

Ms. Parker had pro­moted the ex­ten­sion of eu­thana­sia to peo­ple who had made a pre­vi­ous re­quest for med­i­cal aid in dy­ing, but who may be­come in­com­pe­tent.

Shortly be­fore her death, Ms. Parker posted on her Face­book page that the eu­thana­sia lobby group Dy­ing with Dig­nity would pro­pose a bill to be known as Au­drey’s law. It would amend the late-stage con­sent pro­vi­sion in the Cana­dian Crim­i­nal Code to ex­tend eu­thana­sia to in­com­pe­tent peo­ple who had made pre­vi­ous re­quests.

Amend­ing the re­quire­ment for late con­sent would al­low peo­ple seek­ing eu­thana­sia later in life to write an ad­vanced di­rec­tive when they are in fear of the fu­ture.

How­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence shows that, when pa­tients are well-treated in a hos­pice or with pal­lia­tive care and sur­rounded by loved ones, the fear of death dis­si­pates. Con­se­quently, they may not wish to be put to death, but, un­der the pro­posed rules, would be legally un­able to change their mind if they were deemed in­com­pe­tent.

A cau­tion­ary case that tran­spired in the Nether­lands demon­strates the pos­si­ble dan­ger. A woman with de­men­tia was eu­th­a­nized even though she tried to fight it off. The doc­tor had put a seda­tive in her cof­fee with­out her knowl­edge, but she still re­sisted, so the doc­tor had her fam­ily hold her down while he lethally in­jected her. The re­gional re­view com­mit­tee found all was done in good faith.

When lob­by­ists advocate eu­thana­sia for in­com­pe­tent peo­ple, it proves that choice can be an il­lu­sion. Choice was the ban­ner used when ac­tivists pro­moted le­gal eu­thana­sia in Canada in 2016.

How­ever, the en­acted leg­is­la­tion pro­tected peo­ple who be­come in­com­pe­tent and can­not choose or con­sent to their pre­vi­ous re­quest be­cause it is im­pos­si­ble to know whether they still want to die by lethal in­jec­tion.

There are wide­spread mis­con­cep­tions re­gard­ing eu­thana­sia.

Cana­dian so­ci­ety pro­hib­ited eu­thana­sia and as­sisted sui­cide be­fore 2016 not to pre­vent au­ton­omy or sti­fle free­dom, but to pre­vent one per­son from caus­ing or be­ing in­volved with caus­ing the death of an­other per­son.

Even to­day, many peo­ple con­fuse le­git­i­mate end-of-life med­i­cal prac­tices, such as the use of large doses of painkilling drugs or the use of se­da­tion tech­niques, with eu­thana­sia. A Que­bec gov­ern­ment re­port er­ro­neously made the claim they were equiv­a­lent.

Eu­thana­sia and as­sisted sui­cide are clearly dif­fer­ent from with­draw­ing life-sus­tain­ing med­i­cal treat­ment.

When a med­i­cal team with­draws treat­ment from a per­son who may be near­ing death, the in­ten­tion is to ac­cept the lim­its of life and to al­low death to oc­cur nat­u­rally. If the per­son dies, the death is the re­sult of the med­i­cal con­di­tion.

When Canada le­gal­ized eu­thana­sia for ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, Par­lia­ment estab­lished safe­guards.

We now see an in­creas­ing call for the ex­ten­sion of cases el­i­gi­ble for eu­thana­sia and the de facto re­moval of safe­guards.

Con­sid­er­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and the el­derly to co­er­cion, can we be sure that ev­ery­one eu­th­a­nized chooses to die?

Many Cana­di­ans ob­jected to the Supreme Court’s autho­riza­tion of eu­thana­sia. In response, our leg­is­la­tors strug­gled to de­fine the ex­cep­tional cases that would al­low for eu­thana­sia.

How many deaths with­out re­quest or con­sent should we con­sider un­ac­cept­able? Out of re­spect for the dig­nity of each hu­man per­son, we must con­clude that even one is too many.


Au­drey Parker had been di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal cancer and died with a doc­tor’s as­sis­tance on Nov. 1. A lobby group has pro­posed a bill, named af­ter Parker, that would change how con­sent to eu­thana­sia works in Canada’s Crim­i­nal Code.

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