Dr. Will Johnston at a euthanasia conference in 2014. Photos by Deborah Gyapong

Euthanasia advocates naive about end-of-life situations, says one physician

  • April 14, 2016

OTTAWA – Euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates may end up getting more than they bargained for when they reach their waning days, said a doctor with Canadian Physicians for Life.

The advocates may find themselves robbed of choice when it comes to end-of-life decisions, warns Dr. Will Johnston, chair of Canadian Physicians for Life.

“Suicide advocates suffer from a combination of naiveté and boundless confidence when they get to the situation when they are at end of life or have a significant disability that all of the choices are going to be one of their choices, not one of their caregiver’s choices,” said Johnston, who also heads the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition B.C.
In a conference call April 13 on the eve of the federal government tabling of assisted-death legislation in Ottawa, Johnston shared the story of a court case involving a patient he called “Uncle Matt.”

Uncle Matt’s niece phoned Johnston saying she “couldn’t understand why the hospital was starving and dehydrating her uncle to death.” He had been a “vigourous 80-year-old” who suffered a stroke while on a hunting trip. He was put on a feeding tube to help him during the recovery stage when swallowing was difficult. The feeding tube fell out and Uncle Matt’s daughter did not approve of it being put back in, said Johnston.

The uncle croaked that he was thirsty, but the hospital would not give him anything to drink and told the niece and her husband to go away. They then abducted Uncle Matt and brought him to another hospital, which was reluctant to keep him. An emergency court hearing was called to obtain an injunction to rehydrate Uncle Matt but “at the very time of the judge hearing evidence from Matt’s family, Matt died,” Johnston said.

This case is an illustration of how the hospital system is “simply not equipped to figure out what is going on at home, when there are relatives who would rather you be dead,” he said. In Uncle Matt’s case there were “millions of dollars they would rather have in their control.”

Any physician with a busy practice can become overworked and regulatory requirements end up taking a back seat, he warned. 

“It takes an administrative rigour to ensure something as specific as the Supreme Court of Canada’s injunctions in the Carter case actually get carried out in the trenches.”

Johnston said the expansion of euthanasia and assisted suicide is inevitable, based on what is going on in Europe. Recently a couple Francois, 80, and Anne, 86 who had no specific illnesses and were not terminally ill, decided to be euthanized together. None of their three adult children said they would be willing to look after the survivor if one died first. 
“These kinds of couple suicides, when they start to be contemplated, call out for intelligent social intervention, not an arranged death.”

On the same conference call, constitutional lawyer and litigation expert Albertos Polizogopoulos, who represented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Catholic physicians and a group of health care organizations intervening in the Carter case, said there has been a “broad mischaracterization” of the Carter decision. He said the Supreme Court did not create a positive right to assisted suicide as many claim.

“The Carter decision was decided on the facts of the case,” he said, noting that all the Supreme Court did in the case of Ms. Carter was to say that because of her circumstances, a degenerative disease that would progress to the point where she could not commit suicide herself, the law posed a risk to her right to life by forcing her to consider committing suicide earlier while she was still able. 

“That is not a finding of a positive right,” Polizogopoulos said.

He said both the joint-Parliamentary Committee and the Provincial Territorial panel on assisted suicide “sought to widen and expand what Carter contemplated.”

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