Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Carter Decision: Not Safe for Doctors

By Alex Schadenberg,
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The Carter decision has been heralded as legalizing “physician-assisted death,” more commonly known as assisted suicide or euthanasia. A closer reading of the decision reveals, however, that these practices are not “legalized” in the sense that they are safe for doctors to do. This will be the case until the expiration of a 12 month suspension and the passage of regulations by Parliament of a regulatory scheme to create safe harbors for practice.

Carter merely provides that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting physician-assisted death are of no force or effect when three factors are satisfied: patient competency; clear consent; and a “grievous and irremediable medical condition.” (Decision, ¶147). Physicians are not always right regarding such factors.

Consider, the Victorio Noval case, in California, where a hospital reportedly performed a “terminal extubation,” thus causing Noval’s death. After the fact, the hospital learned that his daughters had lied about his condition for the purpose of a quick inheritance and that consent had been required by Noval’s son, which had not been obtained. The hospital and other parties have now been sued. Hospital staff are reportedly refusing to testify in order to avoid incriminating themselves on criminal charges.

If, by contrast, Noval had died under a regulatory scheme such as Washington’s death with dignity act, there would have been no basis for liability as long as the act was used. See: Washington State’s death certificate instructions, requiring that a death be treated as “Natural” as long as the act was “used.”

Without the imposition of a similar regulatory scheme by Parliament, no doctor who assists a suicide, can be assured of his or her safety to do so. Even after the 12 month suspension period, doctors are at risk of homicide charges because, like the hospital in  Mr. Noval’s case, they learn after the fact that they were wrong.

View the Carter decision.

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