Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Assisted Dying law will claim unintended victims.

This article was written by Dr Will Johnston, a Vancouver physician, and published in the Huffington Post on September 28, 2016.

Will Johnston is a family physician and the chair of EPC-BC

The Carter decision to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia claimed that Canada could avoid abuses through careful guidelines and screening. Medically facilitated elder abuse by greedy relatives and medicalized suicide for the depressed -- a grim reality where this practice is legal -- were supposed to be avoidable, said the judge,because of a superior medical culture in Canada. The abuses of Belgium? Not for us.

Experience proves otherwise.

According to the new law, it will be five years before Canada's assisted suicide and euthanasia regime has to report back to the nation. Two stories offer reasons why that report will fail to reveal those depressed patients, far from death, who are steered to suicide by others and by their untreated mental illness.

A friend, herself dealing with advanced ovarian cancer, heard from a neighbour that his wife was going to get assisted suicide. The neighbour said they would be going to a doctor in Vancouver to get this done. This baffled my friend, who had seen the woman outside her home, gardening. The husband made other comments suggesting that his wife would be dead soon. She had heart trouble.

My friend tipped off her own nurse to get community services involved and the suicidal woman's depression began to be addressed by a nurse and social worker. This apparently able-bodied woman did not go to Vancouver right away -- but she had been invited, as soon became clear.

I will let my friend's words testify to the end of that story:

"A few days later the husband came over with a clipboard and a pen. He started by saying, "Damn government did not pass the bill." He asked me to sign a form -- that he needed two signatures for the doctor in Vancouver. He stated that none of their family and friends would sign. I almost passed out! 
Seriously. I told him I would not sign. He assumed that it was on religious grounds and I said no it was experiential. He said "OK, then I will ask your husband." I told him he had better not even bring it up! 
We went on a two-day visit to the grandsons and came back on June 7 (the designated day of the euthanasia) and his balcony was draped in black crepe. 
Several days later I bumped into him at the mailbox and he complained that none of the neighbours had given condolences even though he made it obvious that [his wife] had "passed." I asked him how he was and he said that his wife had a nice last day, that she liked the walk around the seawall. 
He also told me that he felt sorry for the poor doctor because she was so tired because she had so many euthanasias that day. He and the boyfriend are now residing together in a big new travel coach parked elsewhere in the same trailer park and the Mustang has become the vehicle of preference and he sold his house. No one talks to him..."
This appears to be medical homicide as a solution to depression, apparently facilitated by a husband with other interests.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by the wife of a young man with a neurological disease. The man had been assured by a euthanasia-performing doctor in Vancouver that he qualified for an assisted suicide. He was depressed and never ventured outdoors.

At the patient's invitation I visited him in his shared room in a dingy nursing home, a place once described to me as "a prison." He told me about his struggle to find a cure with massive doses of vitamins. He was less disabled than, for instance, Walter Lawrence, who works in Vancouver as an inspiring peer counsellor to spinal injury patients and others.

But this patient had lost hope for the future and felt his existence was meaningless and that death was the only solution. This death-focused tunnel vision defines a suicidal depression, and any able-bodied person would be given psychological help to relieve it. This disabled man, who was nowhere near dying, was instead killed by a Vancouver physician.

The physician's rationale for circumventing the law, reportedly given over the phone before she met or examined the patient, was that he could easily get bed sores and then die of infection, so that his death "was reasonably foreseeable."

What surprised his wife was "how easy" it was for her depressed, self-isolated husband to be killed under the new regime. What seems obvious is that the whole nature of this death is not going to be reported to the Minister of Health or the Minister of Justice -- there is no transparency to this system.

Five years from now, the mandatory report is going to be full of bland and self-justifying statistics presented by the very doctors who have done the killing. By sanitizing these medicalized suicides and homicides with the now-familiar euphemisms about "medical aid in dying," the uninvolved public will be reassured that nothing has gone wrong.

Canada has simply created a system which offers, and completes, suicide for people whose personalities, disabilities and personal situations put them at high risk for it. Well over a hundred real people have died in the few months since the old law was discarded. To complain that this was repeatedly predicted is to indulge in powerless understatement.

And next, we have the unfolding tragedy of palliative care. That medical specialty has always struggled to reassure fearful dying people that palliation has nothing to do with "mercy killing" and assisted suicide. Reluctant families have been truthfully promised that hospice nurses and doctors are not self-appointed angels of death.

Sadly, palliative care wards and hospices across Canada are, right now, in a hailstorm of administrative edicts to perform euthanasia inside their walls, in whispering range of those families and patients who had been promised a refuge of care.

Violating the principles and purposes of palliative care is in no way required by the new law. The thoughtless imposition of this radical shift needs to be halted. Hospital administrators can and must provide other locations for those few final minutes.

Our Minister of Health and her provincial colleagues would be wise to act quickly on this. The principles of suicide prevention have been betrayed. It is not inevitable that the principles of palliative care must be next.


3 comments:

Jan O said...

What on earth is going on? How can things like this be stopped? We're in the mire already. People are made in the image of God. People should be respected and helped not destroyed. The foundations of our culture have been destroyed and how many care? Destroy that image and God will be offended. People will be destroyed. Who can turn this downward trend?

ParaTir Quebec said...

Dear Doctor Johnson,

Your anecdotes are very distressing. No doubt about it. I for one am personally outraged.

Unfortunately, we live in a complex legal and ethical environment in which that which is “right” (however that be defined) and that which is “legally permissible” are not expected to coincide, even in theory. Nobody, for instance, would maintain that heroin addiction, in and of itself, is a positive good. Nobody would maintain that the families of addicts, or the addicts themselves, do not suffer. However, the argument is still made that the state should enable this practice, with safe injection and eventually safe free drug supply. It is therefore not possible to influence public policy simply by demonstrating that something is “right” or (as in the case of euthanasia) “wrong”.

It might be wrong. But people don’t care. There are other pragmatic reasons to let it happen, and to encourage the practice.

Moreover, the euthanasia justification at present is based upon personal freedom of choice. This is the impenetrable fetish argument of the twentieth century. Prohibition. Free Union. Divorce. Abortion. and now subsidized drug addiction and euthanasia. In the sublime words of Billy Holiday:

If some day I should take a notion;
To throw myself into the ocean;
It’s no body’s business, if I do.

There is not, at present – and probably will not be for a long time to come -- any way to make a dent in this social construct. But this is also the Achille’s heel of the more enterprising, standardized, utilitarian euthanasia program which our government bean counters are apparently lusting after.

Freedom of choice cuts both ways. The vast majority of handicapped individuals, such as myself, should also have the right to freely express our choice. We should have access to the care of uncompromising Hippocratic medical professionals, not because that is the “right” thing, but because that is the service we wish to BUY.

And that Hippocratic service should be supplied by the state, because we pay taxes for health care, and this is the health care we CHOOSE.

(The state, should not have the right to take our money, and then provide us (only) with a service which we do not want. This, after all, is the most basic malfeasance in business practice, known derogatively as the “bait and switch”.)

Therefore, it is in the following way that I believe we should articulate, among other similar distinctions, the necessity to maintain purely Hippocratic Palliative Care : Euthanasia and Palliative Care do not mix any more than oil and water. There is a huge demand for Palliative Care. Therefore, true Palliative Care facilities should be provided.

This in no way impinges upon the “right” of the suicidal to obtain satisfaction. We are simply pointing out the very obvious fact that satisfying the suicidal does not logically entail the loss, by everybody else, of the Hippocratic services they desire and that they pay the government to provide.

So to summarize the essential: This is not a “moral” argument. The right to Hippocratic medicine is a commercial issue of consumer choice. We want it. We pay for it. We must have it.

Feel the Love,

Gordon from Montreal

SB from Friends For Life Alliance said...

Horrific!

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