Sunday, December 2, 2012

Margaret Somerville says: Euthanasia ruling is convoluted and skewed.

On November 22, Margaret Somerville spoke at the University of Toronto on behalf of the deVeber Institute on the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Somerville focused on the one-sided skewed and convoluted decision by Justice Smith in the Carter decision in BC.

The following article was written by Michael Swan and published in the December 2 edition of the Catholic Register in Toronto under the title: Euthanasia ruling, convoluted skewed.

By Michael Swan, Catholic Register - December 2

With respect, Justice Lynn Smith of the British Columbia Supreme Court of Justice is dead wrong, Margaret Somerville told about 300 people gathered at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College Nov. 22.

Margaret Somerville
The McGill University law professor and bioethicist picked apart the 137,000 words of the B.C. judge’s June 15 decision striking down the law against assisted suicide in the Carter case. That case has been kicked up to the B.C. Court of Appeal and will almost certainly wind up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The judge ruled that the prohibition of physician-assisted suicide under Canada’s Criminal Code infringe upon the rights of the disabled and on Canadians’ right to life, liberty and security of the person.

Somerville turned her legal mind to the judge’s use of the terms “Right to life,” “Respect for life,” “Inviolability of life,” “Protection of life,” “Sanctity of life” and “Quality of life” in her decision.

Smith ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of the right to life is violated by a law which denies citizens access to physician-assisted suicide. She reasons that a seriously ill patient who is determined to commit suicide would have to kill themselves before becoming too sick or frail to successfully commit self-murder alone. However, if physician-assisted suicide were available, patients could rely on doctors to kill them and therefore wait longer before committing suicide. By Smith’s reasoning, patients would live longer if they could order their doctors to kill them.

Somerville called the reasoning convoluted and skewed. The problem is that the judge considers only individual rights and not the effect on society as a whole.

Euthanasia is a “social act,” Somerville said, where “medical personnel are licensed and compensated by the state to take life.”

While Justice Smith seems to assume that personal autonomy is the value which trumps all others, society has rights too, said Somerville.

“The strongest case against euthanasia is what it is going to do to society,” she said.

Somerville has made similar arguments against legalizing physician-assisted suicide before, but Jean Echlin, University of Windsor lecturer and palliative care nurse consultant, still felt she had to be there to hear the secular champion of life issues speak.

Jean Echlin

“She inspires me,” said Echlin. “I love her inspirational message. It just kind of flows.

Echlin particularly wanted to hear Somerville pick apart the Carter judgment, which she believes does not line up with her bedside experience as a palliative care nurse.

Though official statistics claim 30 per cent of Canadians have access to palliative care at the end of life, Echlin believes it can’t be more than 20 per cent. To hear Somerville argue there can be no such thing as informed consent to euthanasia when other options are not available and pain is not well managed gave Echlin the satisfaction of hearing a respected legal scholar explain something she knows from experience.

For student Safina Allidina, an intern at the deVeber Institute, which sponsored Somerville’s lecture, learning from the McGill professor how euthanasia has escalated in European countries, where it was first envisioned as a rare event in need of legal protection, was eye-opening.

“I didn’t realize how extreme it has gotten in the Netherlands,” Allidina said.

Somerville outlined the program of Dutch doctors in specially equipped minivans who now make house calls to euthanize patients at home.

Sunnybrook Hospital’s Dr. Lucas Vivas felt he had to be there for Somerville’s talk.

“It’s a pressing issue in our field,” he said.

Vivas daily passes by Hassan Rasouli’s bed, though he’s not involved in the man’s care. Rasouli’s family has insisted he should remain on life support against the advice of Sunnybrook doctors, who believe there is no reasonable hope of recovery for the patient who has been in either a persistent vegetative state or minimally conscious since October 2010. The Rasouli family will argue before the Supreme Court of Canada Dec. 10 that he should remain on life support.

For Vivas the central question in end-of-life debates is sanctity of life.

“If there is no sanctity of life a lot of this is moot,” he said.

But in a secular society we have to decide what sanctity means for people who do not accept religious arguments, he said.

Though many polls show a majority of Canadians in favour of legalized physician-assisted suicide, the question has been framed in terms that make it seem cruel to force people to live on in pain, said Somerville. Nor is polling an appropriate way to determine how we care for the dying.

“Just because a majority votes for something doesn’t make it ethically acceptable or legally acceptable,” said Somerville.

Canada has to solve the legal and ethical problem of end-of-life care in ways that accord with the country’s deeper values and not simple economics or convenience, she argued.

“It’s how we treat dying people that will tell us the ethical tone of society.”

1 comment:

Bruce van der Graaf said...

Bravo, a voice of sanity in this sea of selfish madness.

Bruno del Conte