Thursday, August 27, 2015

National Post: Assisted Suicide, respect the conscience rights of all

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Yesterday, delegates at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) annual meeting rejected a motion (79%) to respect the conscience rights of physicians who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

The CMA has not announced its final policy yet but many physicians want nothing to do with killing their patients by euthanasia or assisted suicide, even after the Surpreme Court struck down Canada's assisted suicide law and gave parliament 12 months to legislate on the issue.

Today, the National Post published an editorial titled: On physician-assisted suicide, respect the conscience rights of all. The National Post first examined the position of physicians.

According to a poll of 1,047 doctors by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), released as part of the organization’s annual general meeting in Halifax, 63 per cent would refuse to provide so-called “medical aid in dying.” 29 per cent said they would consider killing a patient upon request, with 19 per cent saying that they “would be willing to help end the life of a patient whose suffering was psychological, not physical.” 
The results suggest there remains strong opposition to assisted suicide among the membership of the CMA, which until recently was officially opposed to a loosening of anti-euthanasia laws in any form. At the same time, it suggests there are enough doctors willing to aid a patient to commit suicide to serve the demand. Unfortunately, that is not enough to settle the matter of just when and how physicians will be involved.
The National Post editorial then examines the effect on physicians:
Put yourself in the position of a doctor who believes euthanasia to be a deep moral wrong. This is not an antiquated or otherwise-dismissible position. The legalization of physician-assisted suicide is a revolution in medicine, which turns the role of doctors as a provider of care on its head and intrudes upon the Hippocratic Oath’s instruction to “not play at God.” It violates the traditional conception of medicine, beseeching the physician to do no harm. It is a new and relatively unchartered territory — altogether so here in Canada. It is imperative that the conscience rights of all be protected. 
Any doctor should have the right to say, “I want nothing to do with this.” While this would obviously not allow him or her to interfere in the decision of another doctor to help a patient commit suicide, the conscientiously objecting doctor should equally be under no obligation to abet the killing of a patient in any way, whether directly or by referral to another doctor. 
The Supreme Court’s finding ... means there are limits on how far Parliament can restrict the practice. It does not — and should not — imply an obligation upon all doctors to participate in the new assisted-suicide regime.
The National Post ends the editorial by urging parliament to recognize conscience rights.
As the CMA poll suggests, there remains considerable hesitation on the part of Canada’s physicians to jump on the euthanasia bandwagon. Accordingly, Parliament’s new law should be explicit in affording the utmost protection to doctors who do not wish to participate in this new and morally troubling enterprise.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition recognizes that if euthanasia and assisted suicide become legal, the only way to protect people is by protecting the conscience rights of physicians.

When physicians have the right to say - I will not kill you - then they also have the right to say - I will protect you in your time of need.

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