Hugh Scher, pictured, legal counsel to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), says Canada's physician-assisted dying law is having considerable impact. Register file photo

Canada’s assisted suicide law moving swiftly, symposium told

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • November 3, 2016

WINDSOR, Ont. – Opponents of assisted suicide face “significant challenges” following the Canadian government’s official endorsement of medically-aided death in legislation enacted last June, a symposium was told.

Hugh Scher, legal counsel to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), said that while it might be encouraging that there are only eight jurisdictions in the world that have passed such legislation — “it is still the vast minority” — Canada’s new law is nevertheless having considerable impact.

“The sad thing is that in Canada we are the most advanced of any jurisdiction in the world in terms of implementing these measures and implementing them quickly,” Scher said.

The lawyer called the law a reflection of the “cultural shift” taking place in society, which speakers throughout the day discussed in a review of laws around the world and how opponents are challenging them.

They told of several factors which have set the stage for acceptance of unnatural death, from a health system trying to cut costs by not treating elderly patients, to society viewing disabled people as not fully functioning and therefore expendable, to the decline in family and community support and the rise of individual autonomy.

Moreover, legislation permitting premature death creates a culture which generally cheapens human life and widens the chances people and institutions will more easily seek their own or others’ deaths, the EPC’s annual symposium was told.

“Suicide tends to be contagious,” said Nancy Elliott, a former New Hampshire state legislator and chair of the EPC’s American counterpart. After Oregon passed its assisted suicide law the state’s “overall suicide rate has increased,” she said.

In California, after that state passed a similar law, there is the case of Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company denied her coverage for chemotherapy but offered to pay considerably less for drugs that would end her life. Such corporate practice “undermines what health care is all about,” Elliott said.

With 90 per cent of health-care dollars spent on treating people in the last six months of their lives, it’s hardly a stretch to think that health care institutions “are going to be encouraging people to end their life at the first sign of disease,” she said.

Health-care workers themselves are highly vulnerable to the new laws which can undermine the integrity of their profession, said University of Windsor nursing professor Kathy Pfaff. “This is a big problem because our nurses are out there in the trenches, they’re losing dignity when they’re being forced to participate in this,” she said.

“We need to support our health-care providers to speak out and challenge our respective regulatory bodies that are causing fear and emotional distress among the people that do this work.”

Aubert Martin, director of Vivre Dans La Dignité, said that since Quebec passed its euthanasia legislation last December, there has been social pressure on institutions to co-operate with the law. For example, a palliative care home refused to perform euthanasia but transferred the patient to a hospital, as was its right.

“But that didn’t prevent Quebec’s health minister from mocking them publicly in the media, asking all palliative care homes ‘to evolve,’ ” Martin said.

Kevin Dunn, a Canadian documentary film producer who recently made The Euthanasia Deception, told the audience that films such as this can be a powerful tool for “social change.”

His crew travelled to Belgium, where euthanasia was legalized in 2002, and interviewed several people who discussed how the law took the lives of loved ones without family consultation and where society’s casual attitude almost expects people with severe disabilities to be euthanized.

“The stories are over there,” he said. “They’ve lived with this law for 15 years.”

Other countries allowing assisted suicide include the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

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