Euthanasia argument unfair to vulnerable

  • November 9, 2007
{mosimage}With the latest calls to resurrect the “right to die,” a leading pro-life proponent reinforced his argument that life needs to be protected from conception until natural death.

Alex Schadenberg,  executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition — Canada, based in London, Ont., made his comment in response to a top Eastern Ontario health official who says it’s time to resurrect the “right to die” debate.

“It’s the ethical responsibility of doctors to encourage discussion regardless of the painful moral, ethical and political questions that arise,” Dr. Robert Cushman, CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, recently told the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen.

During a candid meeting, Cushman said the strain on acute care resources has to be addressed as Canada’s population ages and pressure mounts on health services.

On the other hand, pro-life proponents say human life is too precious to place a monetary value on it.  

“The issue is are we going to cause the intentional death of people and the reality is that many people are proposing to save money (therefore) we should legalize euthanasia,” said Schadenberg.

Cushman argues “we have too much of an emphasis on the cure when the returns for the cure can be very low.” Instead, he said people need to respect seniors’ independence and dignity.

Schadenberg agrees that not all extraordinary treatment is necessary, but he stresses that the question is whether to intentionally cause their death. If people feel like they are a burden to the health care system they will start to feel a duty-to-die mentality, and that worries Schadenberg.

“At what point does one feel a subtle pressure to choose euthanasia or assisted suicide?” he asked. “The right to die people say it’s about choice, but is it a free choice? For those in society who are vulnerable they don’t have a choice.

“The challenge is are we going to uphold and value the most vulnerable in society?” Or do “we only respect people for their utility and then when they lack utility we pressure them to, or hope that they would, choose death,” said Schadenberg.

Michele Boulva agreed with Cushman that there does need to be a public discussion about end of life issues.

“We hear of ‛death with dignity’ and the ‛right to die’ and so I think there’s a lot of confusion in the population about these issues and we really need to clarify the meaning of words,” said Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family based in Ottawa.  

The Ottawa Citizen article reported that a June Ipsos Reid poll found 71 per cent of Canadians favoured legalizing doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients, and 76 per cent supported the “right to die” concept for someone about to endure the full course of a deadly illness. Boulva said those numbers would drop if people fully understood the issue and the meaning of human dignity was clarified.

 “I think public discussion will be an occasion for all Christians to propose good ways of taking care of life until the very end, a natural end,” she said.

Cushman said that money is being spent on chronic patients in “high end” acute-care facilities instead of community programs and home care.  

Both Boulva and Schadenberg support community programs and home care, but stress ending life prematurely on compassionate grounds is in fact not compassionate.

“I hate to say this but in our society we are somewhat failing,” said Schadenberg. “There are people who are old who feel abandoned in society because we are not upholding their spiritual and emotional needs.

“Accompanying them is real compassion. It’s not ending life through whatever means, ending life earlier than it was meant to end,” said Boulva.

“The humane way to accompany the ones we love is by being present when they need us. We need people in our suffering as we need them throughout our life.”

Boulva said more research needs to go into how to control pain because discomfort is a major reason why people want to die. Once the pain is managed people tend to want to live longer.

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