Euthanasia support driven by fear

  • June 18, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - A recent poll showing massive support for doctor-assisted suicide among Canadians underscores how fearful people are of death and dying, especially if they have no belief in God or eternal life, says the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute .
“Some do not want to suffer pain at any level and they want to spare themselves and, indrectly, their families and caregivers,” Moira McQueen told The Catholic Register June 15. “Some fear the indignity that’s often involved (with dying) and do not want to appear weak, vulnerable or not in control of what’s happening. Some do not believe that medication will help control the pain.”

And, she added, “if people have no concept of God, or life hereafter, it’s as if they just want to get it over with, and they will ask for death instead of waiting for it on its own terms.”

{sidebar id=2}McQueen was commenting on the release a few days earlier of a national poll conducted by Ipsos Reid on doctor-assisted suicide. The poll, issued June 10, came just after American Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the notorious “Dr. Death,” was released from prison in Michigan after serving eight years for second-degree murder. Over a 10-year period, Kevorkian claimed to help numerous people commit suicide.

Ipsos Reid found that 71 per cent of those Canadians it surveyed agreed that doctors should be allowed to legally assist in the suicide of a terminally ill patient. Another 25 per cent thought it should remain a crime.

More generally, 76 per cent agreed with the concept of individuals having a “right to die.” Only 21 per cent disagreed.

Ipsos Reid also reported that these results, taken in a poll between June 5 and June 7 for CanWest Global of 1,005 Canadian adults, were unchanged from those of a poll taken in 1993.

Alex Schadenburg, the London, Ont., based director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says the poll is not saying that Canadians approve of assisted suicide, only that they think it should be legal.

“I don't think that the poll represents a message that Canadians believe that euthanasia is good,” he said. “I do think that there is a lot of fear related to potential problems at the end of life and I also think that a lot of people have witnessed a family member or friend receiving less than optimum care while dying.”

McQueen said Canadians need to become better educated on the issue. If this were to happen, she believed that public opinion would change.

“They need to learn some lessons from the Dutch experience,” she said. In the Netherlands, euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are both legal, though there are supposed to be strict controls in place to ensure no one is killed against their will.

“What started as voluntary and requested has moved to involuntary euthanasia in some cases,” in Holland, McQueen said. “That should set off alarms.”

She also pointed out that a procedure meant to be limited to consenting adults now includes handicapped children.

“Overall, the trust relationship between patients/physicians is largely destroyed,” she said. “Older people may not even trust their families if there is involuntary euthanasia in practice.”

McQueen said those who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, including the Catholic Church, need to work harder to educate all Canadians about the implications of changing the law. She said Canadians also need to know more about the alternatives, including better palliative care and sedation.

“We need to foster our belief that life is important right up until the end, that being with dying people is a privilege, and that it enables us as caregivers to be better Christians through being in solidarity with them,” she said.

Schadenburg added that the Catholic Church needs to become a better advocate for the dying and become more aware of the emotional, psychological and spiritual pain that people experience as they near death. “If the church were more involved with visiting the sick, the shut-ins and the dying (corporal works of mercy) there would be a lot fewer people who would feel abandoned in the last days of their life,” he said.

The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral statement in April on euthanasia and assisted suicide. In the statement, the bishops reminded Catholics of their belief that all life is sacred. Called “Going to the House of the Father,” the statement urges Catholics to help loved ones who are dying to prepare for death spiritually and emotionally by being present and praying with them, along with making them as comfortable as possible.

The statement can be found on the bishops’ web site here .

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