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Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide

One of the most important public policy debates taking place today surrounds the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The decisions that arise out of these debates will greatly affect relationships between family members, between doctors and their patients as well as the ethical standards that are upheld by society as a whole. Although conversations about Euthanasia can become hindered by slogans and misinformation, it is important that the public become educated on these issues.

There is often confusion between what is meant by euthanasia as opposed to assisted suicide. Specifically, euthanasia is defined as the intentional killing of someone (by action or omission), without that person’s consent, for what are said to be compassionate reasons. This is in contrast to assisted suicide which is where the person who died performed the last act to end their own life. Such an act would be considered an assisted suicide if someone (such as a doctor) abetted this action by providing an overdose of drugs to a patient or by inserting an intravenous needle into a patient’s vein in order to allow a patient to trigger a fatal injection.

Current Canadian laws do not distinguish between euthanasia, assisted suicide and other forms of murder. The key consideration in the Canadian legal system is the intention to cause death. We at Hamilton Right to Life support the current legal position which is that consent or motive (even compassionate motives) does not change the reality of what it means to kill another human being.

At the present time the current legal position is under attack because there is a growing tendency to suggest “mercy killing” as a solution to pain, aging, mental or physical health issues, social ills, rising health costs and cost containment. One high profile example of this was an American HMO who recently refused to cover the costs of expansive cancer drugs but did offer to pay to end the life of the suffering patient (note: This was possible because Oregon is one US state which permits euthanasia and assisted suicide).

One of the most challenging aspects of this discussion is that some people believe that those who oppose euthanasia want to force people to be kept alive by using modern medical technology. This is simply not the case.

Modern medicine has certainly lengthened life spans, but the current law permits patients or their surrogates to withhold or withdraw unwanted medical treatment even if it means that the patient will likely die.

Neither the law nor medical ethics requires that “everything be done” to keep a person alive beyond their bodies natural limits. We at Hamilton Right to Life would not advocate overruling a patients wish to refuse medical treatment.

Inevitably there will come to be times when continued attempts to provide cures cease to be compassionate or medically appropriate. It is at this time when hospice care can become incredibly valuable. In the hospice environment, all efforts are made to make the patient as comfortable as possible as they proceed to the end of their life. It is important that steps be taken not only to alleviate physical pain but also to provide emotional and spiritual support for both the patient and their family. It is in times such as these where we are able to impact people’s lives by walking with them through their pain.

In the end, Hamilton Right to Life’s opposition to Euthanasia and assisted suicide is grounded in the fact that we believe that human life is inherently valuable. In a world where value is so often associated with productivity, it is imperative that we defend those who are weak and vulnerable. We believe that all people are of equal value regardless of age, physical or mental health or social status. Furthermore, we suggest that all who are able should provide care and companionship to those who have no one else. Please join us as we advocate for the holistic care of hurting and often lonely people.

For more information on this critical issue, visit the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.