Sign sends a message at rally against assisted suicide. CNS photo/Art Babych

The fight goes on for euthanasia opponents

By 
  • November 11, 2021

Bill C-7, which will expand access to a medically-assisted death, is the law of the land and no doctor or nurse practitioner can be charged under the criminal code for ending the life of a patient who asked for the procedure so long as the right forms were filled out.

Sure there’s a joint parliamentary committee reviewing how MAiD (medical assistance in dying) should apply to patients who request an early death on the basis of their mental illness. Its work was suspended when Parliament dissolved and presumably will go back to work when Parliament returns Nov. 22.

But the committee’s work is to map out how doctors will fulfill requests for MAiD from mentally ill patients, not whether such procedures should happen.

“We’re losing big time at the political level,” is Catherine Ferrier’s blunt assessment.

Despite this, Ferrier carries on as president of the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia representing 1,165 doctors.

“If there is nobody with our vision at the table — I mean, it’s not going to stop them from doing whatever they want to do, but it’s been said. It’s on the record,” said Ferrier, a McGill University Faculty of Medicine professor of geriatrics. “We still have an obligation to do that.”

The Physicians’ Alliance membership is made up of ordinary, working doctors. Ferrier sees them occupying a whole different world from the full-time academics and the senior leadership at provincial colleges of physicians or the Canadian Medical Association.

“Most doctors don’t have a lot of time for medical politics,” she said. “In the pro-euthanasia camp there are full-time academics who are using their full-time academic jobs, paid by the university, to promote euthanasia..”

At the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, executive director Alex Schadenberg is just as realistic about the prospect of Canada making a U-turn on euthanasia.

“The legislation has passed. In fact, this government is planning to expand things more. All of that is true,” he said.

But the problem goes beyond legal and political questions, as far as Schadenberg is concerned.

“It was a matter of time before the law caught up to the culture,” he said.

“The culture is open to one person — a physician or a nurse practitioner — causing the death of another person. They’re open to that. They think it’s fine and dandy and I think it’s a crazy idea.”

Schadenberg fights on. “There’s a voice that still needs to be heard and we’re going to continue,” he said.

Rather than lobbying governments, most of Schadenberg’s work now is with individuals and families.

“I continue to receive phone calls where I’m helping people who are dealing with the questions, trying to prevent a euthanasia death in their life,” he said.

Schadenberg is convinced the best path to changing Canadian minds on death as a solution to suffering lies in more and better palliative care. Catholic health care is the only way palliative and hospice care that doesn’t include euthanasia can demonstrate to the next generation it is possible to face a natural death without unendurable suffering. But Catholic health care will be swimming against the tide.

“The government said they were going to put millions of dollars into funding palliative care. That money never really came to fruition,” Schadenberg said.

The 2020-21 federal budget allocates $3.2 million for palliative care. Since the 2016-17 budget, just after MAiD became legal, Ottawa has put $13.6 million into various palliative-care projects. Health-care spending in Canada falls almost exclusively under provincial jurisdiction.

Catholic hospitals and health-care providers have access to provincial funding and could therefore build up palliative care so that it’s not offered as a last-minute, last-ditch effort to patients who have already suffered needlessly, said Schadenberg.

“They could create a vibrant system. They have the ability. A group like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition — as much as we’re trying to do as much as we can with that — we’re under no illusion that we have the ability to do what needs to be done,” he said.

But it has to happen fast, because in many areas of the country euthanasia advocates are successfully redefining palliative care to include an option for MAiD.

“This is a problem, because palliative care was never, ever designed or meant to be involved with causing death,” he said.

“It was about providing excellent care and dignity in the sense that they dealt with pain, symptom management, psychological, spiritual supports to someone when they’re dying.”

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