Aubert Martin

As election looms, euthanasia ‘taboo’ topic of campaign

By 
  • October 14, 2015

OTTAWA - In the final days of the federal election campaign, an array of anti-euthanasia groups nationwide has accused the political parties of “fleeing their responsibilities” on an issue too important to be swept under the carpet.

“The election campaign is moving ahead and politicians are firing out their promises. Yet despite their life or death implication for all Canadians, the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia remain taboo,” said the Oct. 5 release issued by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), the EPC-BC, the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia and the Quebec-based grassroots organization Living with Dignity.

The groups called on all political parties to take clear positions and commit to enacting legislation that protects vulnerable citizens “from inducement to suicide,” improves access to quality palliative care and upholds freedom of conscience for all caregivers and health care workers.

“The Supreme Court has made a decision and the next government will have to implement a law around that, to make sure it has as low risks as possible,” said Aubert Martin, the new executive director of Living with Dignity.

“When we are in an election, we always focus on economics, but the government in this case also rules on social issues. It’s alarming that that big an issue is not even talked about.

“It’s a life-or-death issue,” Martin stressed. “We are changing the conception of our society; we are saying under certain conditions it will be all right to kill. This is the kind of message we shouldn’t take for granted.”

During the French language leaders’ debate, when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked a question on euthanasia, he “completely escaped from the question” by responding with remarks about his plan for the middle class, Martin said. All of the other party leaders also avoided the topic.

Dr. Will Johnston, a Vancouver family physician and chair of EPC-BC, noted a recent study in the Southern Medical Journal reveals a rise 6.3-per-cent increase in suicide rates in jurisdictions that permit assisted suicide in the United States between 1990 and 1993.

“We now for the first time have a scholarly, independent analysis of the facts that introducing stateendorsed assisted suicide raises the suicide rate, or at the very least does not live up to the claims of opponents that the suicide rate will be reduced by people being confident they don’t have to kill themselves early, that someone else will be available to help them later in the case of a seriously terminally ill,” he said.

“The whole issue of suicide prevention has been neglected,” Dr. Johnston said. Johnston, however, acknowledged a popular “bandwagon” in support of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The Conservatives may fear “alienating a crowd that might otherwise vote for them,” he said, particularly libertarians who are conservative on economic matters but liberal on social issues.

“All Canadians who are alive to the dangers of assisted suicide and euthanasia and realize how unnecessary those practices are to provide good symptom care for people who are actually dying, would like to see a Conservative majority government,” said Johnston, adding he thinks it is the only party that will act responsibly in responding to the Carter decision.

Johnston warned the other parties “will be incautious with the scheme” and Canada will probably end up as bad as the laws in Belgium, “where there simply is no adequate oversight; there is evidence of people being euthanized without consent; nurses taking the law into their own hands; the law being ignored and any guidelines present treated as an empty ritual.”

Martin also expressed concerns about conscience rights, especially after palliative care centres in Quebec have been threatened with a loss of funding and doctors with the loss of their licenses if they refuse to offer the euphemistic “medical aid in dying” at their facilities.

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