Pro-lifers must fight euthanasia momentum shift

By 
  • February 19, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition — Canada executive director Alex Schadenberg says euthanasia advocates see momentum on their side.

Washington State legalized assisted suicide in a plebiscite held during the last U.S. presidential election. Schadenberg pointed out this was the first referendum to pass of the many attempts in the 10 years since Oregon passed its assisted suicide law.  

“There seems to be an attitude among the groups that want to see it legalized the time is right to do it,” he said. “Now momentum has changed. People seem to be acting like because it was done in Washington State, why can’t it be done here?”

In Canada, Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde announced Feb. 11 her intention to re-introduce an assisted-suicide bill in the House of Commons. This will be her third such bill. Schadenberg said he is not surprised, noting that she drew number 42 in the private members’ business lottery. That means her bill is likely to come to debate and a vote.

In the United States, Hawaii and New Hampshire are also looking at bills to legalize assisted suicide, while Montana’s government is challenging a court decision in December that legalized it, he said. The United States deals with the issue state by state, but in Canada the law against euthanasia is federal.

“I think we have to understand to legalize such a thing is a direct threat to our most vulnerable people in our society, especially people with disabilities, our frail elderly and the chronically ill,” he said. The law against euthanasia and assisted suicide is their only protection. To remove it would be “a direct threat to their lives,” he said.

Schadenberg also noted the media’s focus on unfortunate cases as evidence the assisted- suicide law should be changed.

The most recent concerns Peter and Yanisa Fonteece of Waterloo, Ont. The couple faced severe financial difficulties and was heading west, looking for work. Their car broke down in Thunder Bay, where they stayed in a motel for days. Police have charged Peter Fonteece, 46, with assisted suicide and aggravated assault on Yanisa, 38, who was found dead in the motel room.

“It’s a very sad case, but it has nothing to do with assisted suicide,” Schadenberg said.

The other case involved the case of Chantal Maltais, 49, a wheelchair-bound Quebec man who hanged himself with the help of a device built by his cognitively impaired nephew, Stephane Dufour, 30. Dufour was found not guilty late last year, but a Quebec prosecutor said in December he plans to appeal.  

“He (Dufour) did not want his uncle to die,” Schadenberg said. “He felt pressured into doing this act.”

Schadenberg said Dufour’s acquittal is not precedent-setting because of the mitigating factors, especially his mental impairment.

The death by dehydration of Eluana Englaro, dubbed Italy’s Terri Schiavo, has also raised concerns that lethal injection will become a favoured option.

Comatose since a car accident in 1992, Englaro, 38, died Feb. 9, after her father obtained a court order to have her feeding tube removed.

“It’s a tragedy that Eluana Englaro was dehydrated to death because once again she is a woman with a cognitive disability who was being well cared for by an order of nuns, but her dad felt it was the best thing to do and the courts agreed,” he said.

“When we go from a situation where allowing death to occur to actually causing death, society has crossed the road to where it should never be. Dying by dehydration is not a compassionate death.”

Schadenberg said the more people are intentionally dehydrated to death when they are otherwise not already dying, such as Englaro or Schiavo, the more pressure will build to legalize death by lethal injection.

“There is no dignity to dying by dehydration,” he said. “One begets the other. That’s a sad reality.”

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