Canadians and Britons are more open to physician-assisted suicide than Americans, a recent poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion has found.

Eighty per cent of Canadians and 77 per cent of the English said that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill, fully informed and competent patients to kill themselves. But only 56 per cent of Americans agreed.

The poll found 10 per cent of Canadians and nine per cent of Britons firmly opposed to physician-assisted suicide no matter who asks for it. Nearly one third — 29 per cent — of Americans said it should never be allowed. On the flip side, three-quarters of Canadians and Britons said physician-assisted suicide should always be allowed under specific circumstances, whereas only half of Americans thought so.

The problem with polls is that few respondents understand what’s meant by physician-assisted suicide, said Rita Marker, Patient Rights Council executive director.

“Those who are answering this poll could be viewing it as removing life support,” she said in an interview from Steubenville, Ohio. The Patient Rights Council is independent, but closely aligned with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Murky notions of palliative care and its availability fuel a fear-based response to polls on physician-assisted suicide in Canada, said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

“Most Canadians support euthanasia or assisted suicide because they fear dying in pain or experiencing uncontrolled symptoms,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Fear is a normal human response and it should be respected.”

The poll reveals nothing new about British attitudes to physician-assisted suicide, said Charles Wookey, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“So far as the UK is concerned, in terms of opinion surveys this doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “What we’re seeing here to a degree is an instinctive, compassionate response from a society that prizes individual autonomy very highly.”

The Angus-Reid survey found 86 per cent of Canadians, 84 per cent of Britons and 69 per cent of Americans agree with the statement that “Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would give people who are suffering an opportunity to ease their pain.”

People who believe laws against assisted suicide protect the vulnerable from social, economic and medical pressure to commit suicide face a major education challenge, said Wookey.

“It means there’s a very, very clear job for the Church to do, particularly in secular society,” he said.

But the Church can’t do it without allies, according to Wookey.

“What’s essential in this debate in this country is for it to be conducted in secular terms,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate fact that the religious argument or arguments based on the appeal to faith tend clearly not to persuade people who do not share the faith. They invite the response, ‘Don’t impose your faith-based views on the rest of us.’ ”

British bishops have teamed up with disability rights organizations and palliative care professionals to form an alliance called Care Not Killing — a purely secular platform to engage the public policy debate.

“When people are taken through the arguments and begin to understand first of all the quality of palliative care and what palliative care can provide, and secondly what the public policy consequences are for the most vulnerable members of society of a change in the law — what it might actually lead to — then very many people do actually change their minds,” said Wookey.

Getting people educated about the issue is essential because without a full debate economic issues will enter the equation, said Marker.

“We have to recognize the fact that all health programs are trying to save money,” she said. “By trying to save money the question is, will those health programs — if you say assisted suicide is a medical treatment — will they then do the right thing or the cheap thing?”

In Canada, availability and understanding of palliative care is key, said Schadenberg. He points to a 2010 Environics poll  that found 71 per cent of Canadians want governments to prioritize palliative care over euthanasia and assisted suicide. The 2011 Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care report Not To Be Forgotten is a start, he said.

“The real answer is to care for the needs of Canadians who are living with terminal conditions, chronic pain or disabilities,” said Schadenberg.

Angus-Reid’s online survey polled 1,003 Americans, 2,019 Britons and 1,003 Canadians between July 4 and 5. The margin of statistical error is plus or minus 2.2 per cent for Great Britain and plus or minus 3.1 per cent for Canada and the United States.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA- The federal government has announced it will appeal the June 15 British Columbia Supreme Court Carter decision that struck down Canada's laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"After careful consideration of the legal merits," the Government of Canada will appeal the Carter decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and seek "a stay of all aspects of the lower court decision," said Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson in a July 13 statement, released on a Friday afternoon shortly before the July 16 deadline for filing an appeal.

Published in Canada

The parallels between abortion and euthanasia or assisted suicide are often cited during debates, especially by those who recall the role played by the media and the courts in first liberalizing Canada’s abortion laws and later eliminating them.  But over the past few weeks we have seen a striking difference emerge. 

Decades ago, almost all media outlets supported liberalization of abortion laws. In recent weeks, however, media reaction to a B.C. court decision striking down Canada’s assisted suicide laws has  been anything but unanimous. Even editorials supportive of the decision have acknowledged the vulnerability of the elderly and disabled, and pointed out the potential for abuse through a more liberal law.

Opposing the court decision, the Vancouver Province said, “Allowing doctors to kill patients nearing the end of their lives, even with their consent, cheapens the sanctity of life, no matter how horrible the disease a patient is suffering from.”

Published in Joanne McGarry

Tragedy at a Montreal psychiatric facility should stop proponents of  medicalized killing dead in their tracks.

On June 16, one day after the B.C. Supreme Court struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, someone in the high security psychiatric unit of the Centre Hospitalier Université de Montréal asphyxiated a patient. On June 21, a second patient was suffocated.

But here’s the thing: neither death was recognized as a homicide, let alone raised alarm bells, until the next day when an attempt to choke a third patient to death was foiled. A former slaughterhouse worker with a lengthy history of violent crime, who checked himself into the ward the very day the first patient was killed, was charged June 27.

Published in Peter Stockland

OTTAWA - The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) warns Canada is veering in a "dangerous direction" towards euthanasia and assisted suicide and urges Catholics to enter the public debate on end-of-life care.

"It is impossible to remain silent following the June 15 decision by Justice Lynn Smith of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the Carter case," said COLF director Michèle Boulva in a July 4 release. "As citizens of a country which claims to be civilized, Catholics and all people of good will have the right and duty to counter any attempt to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, and also to promote palliative care and true compassion."

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Canada’s bishops have expressed dismay over a B.C. Supreme Court decision June 15 to strike down Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“I strongly urge the government to appeal this extremely flawed and dangerous ruling,” said Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller in a statement released the day of the decision.

The government has until July 16 to file a notice of appeal.

Published in Canada

I cannot abide bishop bashing.

The habit in some Catholic circles of remorselessly denouncing and denigrating our prelates for perceived failures to lead, to act, to show courage, to boss the world about, sets my teeth on edge.

It is difficult to imagine a role outside the world of electoral politics that requires a broader back, a thicker skin and a finer ability to manage expectations than that of a North American Catholic bishop in 2012.

Published in Peter Stockland

And so it begins.

The B.C. Supreme Court has overruled Parliament to decree it lawful for a doctor to kill Gloria Taylor. Canada’s first legal physician-assisted suicide will occur when (and if) Taylor decides to proceed, despite Criminal Code statutes forbidding assisted suicide and valid concerns that Canada is on a slippery slope towards indiscriminate euthanasia.

According to the legal logic of Madam Justice Lynn Smith, a disabled person’s constitutional rights must include an equal opportunity to commit suicide. Suicide is legal in Canada but aiding suicide is not. But when illness or disability makes someone physically incapable of killing themselves, they deserve a helping hand,  Smith ruled.

Published in Editorial

Quebec’s euthanasia debate must be getting horribly confusing when even a Catholic priest doesn’t know the right answer to whether the practice should be legalized.

It must be doubly so when the priest is also a former MP who knows — or should know — that euthanasia can be made legal only by amending the federal Criminal Code.

Yet here was Fr. Raymond Gravel, the one-time Bloc Quebecois MP for a Montreal-area riding, musing about whether killing the elderly, the weak and the suffering might be just what the doctor ordered for Quebec’s health care system.

Published in Peter Stockland

OTTAWA - Quebec’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) have expressed opposition to a Quebec committee’s recommendation to allow euthanasia under limited circumstances.

“While we are pleased that members of the commission recommend greater access to palliative care for all people, we disagree with the recommendations to change laws to recognize physician-assisted dying as appropriate end-of-life care,” the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec said in a statement. “Changing the terms ‘assisted suicide’ and ‘euthanasia’ to ‘physician-assisted dying’ does not change reality.”

Published in Canada

People who believe doctors should never kill a patient even when a patient asks to die are losing the political and cultural battle against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Catholics must learn to articulate their arguments in positive ways, doctors, nurses and others heard at a Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute presentation March 28.

A December poll by Forum Research found 67 per cent of Canadians support legalizing assisted suicide. In Quebec the number rises to 81 per cent. A Quebec government commission recommended March 22 that Quebec’s Attorney General no longer prosecute cases of physician-assisted suicide.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

OTTAWA - Living with Dignity (LWD), a network of anti-euthanasia groups in Quebec, has condemned the province’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity report’s support for euthanasia as “dangerous” and a “profound act of political betrayal.”

After holding consultations across the province last year, on Mar. 22 the committee recommended the legalization of euthanasia for people experiencing constant, unbearable physical or psychological suffering.

Published in Canada

A Quebec legislative committee’s call for legalized euthanasia might be a grave danger to Canada’s health care system. Its immediate and unquestionable menace, however, is the damage it does to democracy.

For the moment, the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity’s all-party report presented March 22 to the province’s National Assembly is in parliamentary and pre-election limbo. There is reason to hope its mad demand for legalizing doctor-administered assisted suicide in Quebec by 2013 will be lost in the dust of politicians hitting the campaign trail.

Published in Peter Stockland

Politicians given enough rope will invariably hang themselves, figuratively speaking of course.

Such is the case with Parti Quebecois justice critic Veronique Hivon, whose clamor for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide should, if there is any justice, now be choked off for good and all.

Madame Hivon came hard out of the chute to condemn Quebec Tory Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu for his recommendation, later withdrawn, that our most notorious convicted killers be left alone in their cells with a length of state-supplied rope.

Published in Peter Stockland

The next big battle facing Catholics is over euthanasia. Already a few preliminary salvos have been fired.

For example, an “expert panel” on euthanasia set up by the Royal Society of Canada recently reported: “The underlying premise — namely that all human beings are possessed of dignity in virtue of a special relationship to a God — is incapable of being used as a basis of public policy proven in the context of a democratic, multicultural and multi-faith society that must cleave to the strictures of public reason in ethical deliberation.”

Published in Guest Columns

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Peter Stockland: Irish should learn lesson from Canada 

It’s the ugly reality that an 83-year-old priest could be taken into custody for democratically and peacefully expressing his right to speak out against abortion, Stockland writes.

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