Euthanasia is not appropriate care

By 
  • November 13, 2009
{mosimage}It was bound to happen but it nonetheless came as a shock to hear doctors endorse the position that, when other treatments fail, it may sometimes be acceptable to simply kill the patient.

In effect, that is the position of the Quebec College of Physicians in a policy paper that says euthanasia can be an ethical and viable option for doctors when a patient, facing “imminent and inevitable” death, is suffering extreme pain. As put by one doctor: “We are saying death can be an appropriate type of care in certain circumstances.”

Death as an appropriate type of care? There are times it seems we’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and the Mad Hatter is writing the headlines. Surely, death can no more be an appropriate type of care than black can be an acceptable shade of white. Or, as Dr. Tim Lau told The Register: “To call the killing of your patients a treatment will turn medicine on its head.”

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Margaret Somerville rightly concluded that having doctors kill patients would further damage society’s most basic value, respect for human life. This fundamental value, she said, has been protected by the pillars of medicine and law for generations and we tamper with it at our peril.

Laws that would legalize euthanasia — “making an exception to the norm that we must not kill each other” — undermine the integrity of the institution of medicine. Since Hippocrates, doctors have sworn an oath to be healers who will never inflict harm. Now, if the Quebec college has its way, the definition of doctor will expand from someone who provides care and treatment to someone who may also dispense death.

To suggest death is an appropriate type of care is the height of doublespeak. Death is the antithesis of care. But language is powerful. Terms such as “pro-choice” and “death with dignity” have been wielded effectively to win votes in the seemingly never-ending erosion of society’s respect for life. Now comes “death by caring.” History has shown the first step on a slippery slope is often preceded by a turn of phrase.

Euthanasia proponents argue that many doctors are in effect already euthanizing patients when they provide terminally ill people in extreme pain analgesics that sometimes cause heart or respiratory failure. But that is a red herring. Providing pain relief that, as a secondary result, causes death is not euthanasia. If the intent of a treatment is pain relief, not death, then the church and the Criminal Code agree that euthanasia has not occurred. But a doctor who prescribes medication to intentionally cause death is defying Canadian law and the code of ethics of the Canadian Medical Association.

As debate resumes next month on Bill C-384, a private member’s bill to legalize euthanasia, Parliament will be asked to peek into the rabbit’s hole and consider this “death by caring” argument. We hope they know a Mad Hatter when they see one.

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