Rarely does a writer cover an issue as well as Hugh Anderson has written about Bill C-384, Francine Lalonde's private members bill that is scheduled for debate in September would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.
Euthanasia bill passes first stephttp://www.vancouversun.com/news/Euthanasia+bill+passes+first+step/1672857/story.html
Next up, MPs to debate measure in Commons
By HUGH ANDERSON, Freelance - Montreat Gazette & Vancouver Sun - July 10, 2009
Wrapped in euphemisms and double-talk, another long step toward making it legal in Canada for doctors to deliberately end the life of patients in certain circumstances has been taken.
Bloc Québécois Francine Lalonde's private member's bill to accomplish that has received first reading in the House of Commons. It is likely within the next month or two to receive the standard one hour of debate by MPs at second reading, unless an election is called. A majority vote in favour could send her startlingly brief bill for study by a Commons committee.
Startlingly also, among those eligible to be legally killed by a doctor might be depressed 18-year-old teenagers who refuse their medications. A doctor would also no longer commit a crime by supplying a lethal dose to enable such depressed teenagers to kill themselves. That could be your grandchild if Lalonde's bill became law in its present form.
It's all a long way from what many people think of as a suitable case for euthanasia: an elderly person who is terminally ill and in excruciating pain who repeatedly and unmistakably asks for death. There is probably the support of most Canadians for exempting your doctor from a murder charge in that strictly limited case.
This kind of obfuscation is a striking characteristic of campaigners for the so-called "right to die with dignity," which in reality means making it legal for somebody else to kill you or to help you commit suicide.
After previous columns on the ominous implications for seniors, I received complaints from readers over using the word kill to describe euthanasia. But what else is it? The act may well be for compassionate motives, but it is what it is.
In her comments on this third attempt to legalize intended killing of patients, Lalonde claimed that experience shows that "abuses and the hypothetical slippery slope" have "not in any way become reality."
But consider the Netherlands, where so-called mercy killing has been formally legal since 2002 and factually legal for three decades. Several government reports have acknowledged that many people have been legally euthanized without their knowledge or consent.
In Oregon, state officials have conceded that they really don't know how many people have been prescribed a lethal dose of drugs to kill themselves, only those that have been reported by doctors.
Universally among existing and proposed euthanasia and assisted-suicide laws, what the legislation actually says is not at all what the supporters of it campaigned on, and what they said the safeguards would prevent. Lalonde's bill is no exception. Here are examples:
- The bill says any person age 18 or over who "appears to be lucid" and who has tried or refused available treatments and "continues to experience severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief" would be eligible to be assisted to commit suicide if the rules are followed. Note that "mental pain." Seniors who have lived through periods of deep depression will recall that at the time there seemed to be no prospect of relief.
- The bill says that certifying the person is suffering such pain or is terminally ill would be up to medical practitioners, defined as "a person duly qualified by provincial law to practise medicine." Does this include my dermatologist, my podiatrist? For "mental pain," there should surely be a requirement to consult a psychiatrist?
- The bill's wording means that people living with disabilities or with chronic conditions would be vulnerable. Such sufferers can be considered by others, and often are, as having no prospect of relief and wishing to die. The sufferers themselves may well have a different opinion.
- The bill's wording would allow you to be killed legally when you have become incompetent to make the choice, if you had earlier given written authority while you appeared to be lucid to another person to act on your behalf when you no longer appear to be lucid. Better be careful about the wording of your mandate or advance directive.
- The bill's wording has no definition of terminal illness. A diagnosis could become an immediate death warrant, no matter what your chances of survival might be or if the diagnosis is wrong.
- The bill's restriction of eligibility based on age would probably be ruled unconstitutional if it became law and was legally tested. As in the Netherlands - where it is now legal for doctors to kill infants, if parents agree, if they believe their patients' suffering is intolerable or incurable- this might mean that eventually babies could become eligible.
Canada's Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has urged Canadians to contact their federal MP to oppose Lalonde's bill.
Its website www.epcc.ca provides sample letters you can download and use as a model.
"This bill is not about choice," coalition director Alex Schadenberg warns. "It's protection for doctors."