Dr. Will Johnson questioned the Canadian Medical Association’s actions as he addressed the Euthanasia Symposium 2014. Photo by Deborah Gyapong.

Zealous opposition awaits anti-euthanasia proponents

By 
  • October 10, 2014

GATINEAU, QUE. - As the Supreme Court of Canada prepares to hear arguments Oct. 15 on assisted suicide, activists against euthanasia warn of the zeal of their opponents. 

“These people are more committed than you are,” Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg told the Euthanasia Symposium 2014: Uniting to Stop Euthanasia here Oct. 4. 

Schadenberg recounted how in 2006 he attended an international meeting of right to die societies. He and an assistant were shocked to hear the discussion during lunch. 

“All around the table, they were talking about how they had killed someone,” he told the symposium. 

He noted that in jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, there are always cases where the prescribed drugs don’t work to cause death as planned. So there was discussion on how to complete the act if the medication fails, he said. 

His assistant, sitting at the same lunch table, told him later she heard a nurse telling about how she had saved up her mother’s morphine so as to give her a lethal dose. When the morphine failed to kill her, the woman said she used a pillow to finish the job. 

Schadenberg indicated this personal connection to assisted suicide and euthanasia may explain some of the motivation to make the practice legal. 

The Supreme Court of Canada is being asked whether assisted suicide should remain a form of homicide or a “form of medical treatment.” The coalition has intervener status in the Carter case. 

The coalition’s British Columbia chair Dr. Will Johnston warned the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) factum in Carter “has several phrases that seem to be written by euthanasia proponents.” The factum seems to indicate the CMA can “step back and go with the flow of what the Canadian people decide.” 

Johnston expressed concern over the way the CMA handled its recent consultation on euthanasia. It echoed the way the CMA handled abortion in 1989-90, by portraying the medical profession as in favour of “choice” when a poll done at the time showed two-thirds of doctors were against abortion, he said. 

“We are seeing the same pattern here.” 

The push from within the CMA comes from “a small number of ideologues who want to be on the leadership edge of public opinion,” said Johnston. 

People who think getting more freedom or more control through legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide will find “the choices being created are going to be in other peoples’ hands, not theirs,” Johnston warned. 

Disability activist Amy Hasbrouck, executive director of Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet, said people have said to her and other disabled people, “I’d rather be dead than be like you.” 

People are unaware of the high rates of abuse of members of disability communities, of the high rates of unemployment and the constant prejudice they face, she said. Telling people who are unable to choose where they live because of their disability that they now have a choice to be euthanized or seek assisted suicide is offering them no choice, she said. 

Nic Steenhout, executive director of the Quebec grassroots coalition Living with Dignity, told the conference his organization has tried fighting Quebec’s euthanasia act in the media, in rallying public opinion and in trying to persuade politicians. Bill-52, Quebec’s so-called “medical aid in dying” bill, passed despite these efforts, though the Act has not yet come into effect. 

The next step is a legal battle, he said. Living with Dignity is joining the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia to fight the law on grounds it is not constitutional. The Criminal Code, which governs homicide, is federal jurisdiction, he said. 

While they are watching to see how the Supreme Court rules in Carter, Steenhout warned if Quebec proceeds with euthanasia, other provinces will follow. 

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