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Charles Lewis: Emergency brakes for slippery slope

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  • January 15, 2020

I write a lot about euthanasia and associated issues. I will not dispute this nor will I apologize. What I think drives me is not only the abhorrence of such an evil practice but that there are ways to safeguard ourselves and our friends and family from this evil. However, to a large extent we are failing to do so. We need to wake up.

The answer at this point is straightforward: We need a right-to-die-naturally movement. This could even include those who support legalized euthanasia. Even those people may never choose to die via a needle full of poison. Some simply believe that they have no right to stop anyone from being put to death but would never choose it themselves. 

In concrete terms, we desperately need more palliative care. We have needed it for many years but now, with legalized euthanasia and the threat of expansion, we need it more than ever. It could come in the form of standalone hospices, dedicated hospital wings and more palliative specialists.

The need for this is now a full-blown emergency. This month, the Trudeau government said it would allow for two weeks of consultations on how to expand the 2016 law. That legislation was restricted to adults who were close to death, though in practice the law was stretched.

The expanded law could allow for teenagers and the mentally ill to be killed by a physician as well as allow for advanced directives in living wills, for situations in which a patient is worried of being in a vegetative state.

This comes, of course, after Ottawa and its pro-death supporters swore up and down there would be no slippery slope. They lied.

As for the two weeks of consultation, my neighbour has been trying for six months to get a parking pad. I guess parking pads take more study than the killing of patients. In truth, the government does not want consultation but co-operation.

For those who want to die a natural death in a safe environment, it is becoming harder. 

In 2010, then Senator Sharon Carstairs wrote a report called “Raising the Bar.” At that point only 30 per cent of Canadians who wanted palliative care could get it. There is no evidence I have seen that says the situation has changed. 

The report said: “The lack of access to quality palliative care has contributed to the resurgence in the debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide.” In essence, without fixing a broken system the next stop would be legalized euthanasia.

The system was not fixed and in June 2016 Canada joined a small group of jurisdictions that decided it is OK to kill those who are sick and dying. 

Defeating this expansion will be difficult because 70 per cent of Parliament is occupied by pro-euthanasia parties.

However, more and better palliative care should be a winnable cause. First, it is not necessarily associated with a religious agenda. You do not have to be religious to want a peaceful, dignified death with the best pain management available.  Money for such a project has been promised twice by the Trudeau government: first in the 2017 budget — anywhere from $6 billion to $11 billion over 10 years — and again a few months ago during the election campaign. But to date it is not clear whether any of that money has been spent. 

There is a concern that with government money there would be a requirement for palliative facilities to practise euthanasia, says Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

He is right to be worried. But that is a fight we can wage.

In the meantime, today, we need to think of those who cannot get good palliative care and what it may mean for them.

“It would be an abuse of justice to allocate resources to Medical Aid in Dying when there are still not adequate options for palliative care,” said Natalie Sonnen, executive director of LifeCanada. 

“Would individuals choose MAiD because they are not receiving proper pain management, or spiritual and emotional support at the end of life?”

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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