Dying with Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool says the recent study study claiming assisted suicide will save health system millions is ‘incredibly premature.’ Photo/Pixabay

Economics can’t drive choices, says Dying with Dignity

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  • February 23, 2017

Palliative care is a human right and should be available to all Canadians and end-of-life choices should not be driven by economics, Dying With Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool has told The Catholic Register.

Gokool called a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that claims Canada’s health care system could save between $34.7 million and $138.8 million, depending how many people choose assisted suicide, “incredibly premature.”

“It includes a number of assumed realities that are not the case,” she said. “There are costs associated here that are very different than in the Netherlands... I don’t want to say there may be no savings or there may be some savings. I honestly don’t know. We don’t have the information we need to make an informed statement.”

Data collection about medical euthanasia was mandated in legislation which made doctor-assisted suicide legal last year, but we won’t see meaningful numbers on costs to the health care system for another year-and-a-half to two years, Gokool said. Even when the numbers are known, neither the cost of the procedure nor the possible savings should drive individual decisions to commit suicide with a doctor’s help or system-wide decisions about how the service is provided, she said.

“There are always other external factors and circumstances that may affect how decisions are being made,” said Gokool.

Canada needs to concentrate on equal and timely access rather than economics given that voluntary euthanasia is now a Charter right, according to Gokool.

The idea that economics won’t play a role in how and whether individual choose assisted suicide, or that costs and possible savings won’t drive how the provinces deliver the service, is unrealistic, said Euthanasia Prevention Coalition director Alex Schadenberg.

“I do think that’s a reality, whether Dying With Dignity wants to say that or not,” Schadenberg said. “They’re being very careful but I have to say, of course it’s a factor. I don’t have to like it.”

Whether it’s families facing escalating and protracted costs for home care and palliative care, or provinces with tight health budgets, it will be apparent to patients that they could relieve either their family or their country of a financial burden by choosing an early exit, Schadenberg said.

For there to be a meaningful and free choice, both palliative care and assisted suicide have to be available on an equal footing and fully funded, said Gokool. But the assisted suicide campaigner insists there’s no either/or decision between palliative care and assisted suicide.

“Many people who will be looking for medical assistance in dying, who will be eligible for it, will already be in palliative care-hospice care,” she said. “It’s not an either/or, it’s about ensuring people have the choice that works for them in their own personal context.”

Mixing up palliative care with doctor’s delivering lethal drugs will only distort palliative care, said Schadenberg.

“Most palliative care physicians say, ‘We want nothing to do with that.’ And they’re still saying that,” Schadenberg said. “Palliative care has historically been about pain and symptom management and dying with dignity in the sense that, ‘We didn’t kill you, we kept you comfortable, you lived your final days and you were respected in your life.’ ”

While Dying With Dignity believes palliative care is a human right, the organization has no plans to lobby in favour of it, Gokool said.

“If they (patients) can’t access it, that’s a crime,” she said.

“Everyone who needs palliative care should have it in this country.”

Schadenberg called Gokool’s insistence that palliative care is a human right “pretty empty” if she’s not willing to campaign for it.

The Catholic Women’s League, Canada’s largest women’s organization, is sponsoring “12 Hours of Prayer for Palliative Care” on May 4 as preparation for National Hospice Palliative Care Week May 7 to 13 organized by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

The CWL hopes the national prayer event will be “a profound witness to the sanctity of human life.”

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