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Editorial: Is this what we want?

  • December 6, 2018

As Parliament awaits the imminent arrival of a report on assisted suicide that may make a bad situation even worse, it’s worth noting some chilling stories from the first countries to legalize medically induced death. This could be our future.

In Belgium, which legalized euthanasia in 2002, two doctors and a psychiatrist face charges over the alleged fatal poisoning of a woman. According to news reports, the woman persuaded doctors she met the legal threshold for euthanasia by claiming she had Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder on the mild end of the autism spectrum. Her death was not imminent — not even close — but she claimed to be suffering unbearably. Belgium permits euthanasia for psychiatric reasons and, based on the woman’s petition, her doctors approved her death by lethal injection. She was 38.

Subsequently, her two sisters claimed she was not autistic, but simply depressed after a relationship ended. She received no treatment from doctors for her alleged autism, which made it impossible to declare that her condition was unbearable or incurable, the sisters said. Belgium authorities found sufficient evidence to support that claim and sent the doctors to trial on charges that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

This all came about soon after prosecutors in The Netherlands charged a doctor for ending the life of a senile woman. It is alleged that he put a sedative in the woman’s coffee and, as family members held the woman down, administered a lethal injection against her will. Two similar cases are also being investigated, and how many unknown or unreported incidents of abuse of the law have occurred is anyone’s guess. 

These types of scenarios — where individual doctors interpret the law according to their personal ethical and moral standards — are bound to some day come to Canada if, as many recommend, the country’s two-year-old euthanasia legislation is expanded to permit easier access for those who have given up on life. Parliament will consider amending the law after it receives a report some time this month on the issues surrounding euthanasia for mature minors and the mentally ill, both of which are permitted by law in Belgium and The Netherlands, but forbidden in Canada.

It’s conceivable that the review being conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies will shut the door on the wisdom of expanding euthanasia, but more likely it will leave the door open at least a crack. The world is passing through an era in which the sanctity of human life is being steadily devalued. To its discredit, Canada is close behind nations like Belgium and The Netherlands in that regard. 

Once the line has been blurred between natural death and medically inflicted death, it becomes easy to lose sight of it altogether. It’s happening abroad. There’s no reason to believe it won’t happen here.

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