Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Assisted suicide: the issue we can’t afford to get facts wrong

By Margaret Somerville, the director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

Margaret Somerville
Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson recently wrote a pro-euthanasia column entitled “Assisted suicide – the issue we can’t ignore.” If he’s correct, it’s also the issue where we can’t afford to get our facts wrong. So, looking at his column, where might some people be doing so? Responding to that question can provide important insights in relation to euthanasia, in particular how pro-euthanasia advocates present “facts” to support their case.

Mr. Simpson writes:
“Canada has been around the issue of physician-assisted suicide many times in the past two decades … but we have never arrived at a consensus to allow the practice, as some European countries have done.”
But no country has a real consensus either for or against euthanasia. In Canada our “consensus,” in this sense, as manifested by the Canadian Parliament, which voted down legalizing euthanasia in April 2010 by a vote of 228 to 59, has been to reject euthanasia as incompatible with foundational Canadian values; not ethically acceptable; seriously harmful to the institution of medicine; and too dangerous in terms of abuse, especially of vulnerable people.

There are several problems with Mr. Simpson’s statement that
“A bill introduced by the Parti Québécois government [the government of Quebec] would have allowed physician-assisted suicide with a range of appropriate safeguards and checks involving patients, physicians and families.”
Bill 52 would have allowed euthanasia, but it’s quite unclear whether it would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. The reports that informed the bill had rejected the latter, for reasons that we can only speculate about.

Clarifying what the bill was allowing is the first safeguard needed. The term “medically assisted death” was used as a euphemism for euthanasia. In an Ipsos Marketing poll carried out September 2013, which covered 2,078 Canadian respondents, 1,010 of them from Quebec, two thirds of Quebecers didn’t understand this meant a physician could give a lethal injection to a patient, and 40 percent didn’t understand that was what euthanasia meant.

And the safeguards were based on the Belgian law allowing euthanasia which have been spectacularly ineffective in containing its expanded use or preventing its abusive use.

Assisted Suicide presents thorny issues for patients, families and doctors.

This letter was written by Dr Mahendra S. Khera and published on April 29 in the Baltimore Sun.

I'm writing in response to the letter "Maryland needs Mizeur's death with dignity law" (April 27) by Alan D. Eason.

Mr. Eason makes a very controversial statement when he says that "Maryland law should be changed to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to legally choose aid in dying when palliative and hospice care can no longer provide, for them, a satisfactory life."

The key phrase is "mentally competent." A person can be not competent for a certain period of time and then may be competent after the situation subsides, such as any medical crisis. This is particularly true for elderly people. Also there will be religious beliefs for the physicians who will be involved. Actually, physician assisted suicide will make physicians more vulnerable to make the decision, which will be very controversial unless clear laws are made to protect physicians from the family members, etc., for legal actions.

A second complaint against Belgium euthanasia doctor.

By Alex Schadenberg
International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Last week a 20 year-old Belgian woman submitted a formal complaint against Belgian euthanasia guru, Dr Wim Distelmans. The woman, known as Margot, has submitted a complaint stating that her depressed mother died by euthanasia without first receiving treatment for depression.

De Standard news reported Margot as stating:
"how could someone who has not even received treatment for depression, get euthanasia?"
Distelmans reponded:
"It's very frustrating for me, but I can not respond to these kind of stories in the press. 
I can not respond, because of privacy laws and it would violate my professional duties."
The article reported that this euthanasia death was approved by the Belgium Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission. The article omitted that Distelmans chairs the Commission.

Godelieva De Troyer
Margot's complaint follows a complaint last February by Professor Tom Mortier concerning the euthanasia death of his mother, Godelieva De Troyer. In his complaint Mortier stated:
Distelmans did not have the expertise to evaluate whether Godelieva De Troyer, was ready for euthanasia. Distelmans is an oncologist, not a psychiatrist and was not even De Troyer's doctor beforehand. She was physically healthy and not suffering from physical pain, and she had spoken with psychiatrists who thought that her emotional distress was treatable. In fact, she was taking medication at the time, which can cause suicidal ideation - so clearly a treatment plan was in place and it may have been causing serious side-effects. Distelmans, it seems, did not take that into account.
Similar to Belgium, the Netherlands is also incrementally extending euthanasia to more conditions.

Why assisted suicide should not be legalised.

By Dr. Peter Saunders, the Campaign Director for the Care Not Killing Alliance.
This article was published on his blog on April 30, 2014.

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders was published in a head to head with Sir Terence English in the Oxford Mail on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in Britain. His contribution to the debate is reproduced below.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would inevitably place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others.

The ‘right to die’ would so easily become the ‘duty to die’. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed and would be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure.

Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions are already real and dangerous and would be made worse.

Any so-called ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, will not work.

This is because exactly the same arguments – autonomy and compassion – would apply to people outside the categories decided upon and so any law allowing it for some would immediately be challenged under equality legislation.

If for terminally ill people, why not for those who have chronic illnesses but are ‘suffering unbearably’?

If for adults why not for ‘Gillick competent’ children? If for the mentally competent why not for people with dementia who ‘would have wanted it’?

The news coming from other jurisdictions which have gone down this route, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, shows a pattern of incremental extension and pushing of the boundaries – an increase in cases year on year, a widening of categories of people to be included and people being killed without their consent.

Belgium has recently legalised euthanasia for children and in the Netherlands babies with spina bifida and people with dementia are already put to death.

This is why British parliaments have rightly rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide in Britain three times in the last seven years and why the vast majority of UK doctors, almost all medical groups including the British Medication Association (BMA), Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and all major disabled people’s advocacy groups are also opposed.

Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for, so our real priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.

This issue is understandably an emotive one but hard cases make bad law and even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom. Our present law with its blanket prohibition on all medical killing does not need changing.

The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy.

Dr Peter Saunders is a retired surgeon and campaign director of the Care Not Killing Alliance, representing 40 organisations opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Some Dutch pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for euthanasia.

This article was written by Michael Cook and published on April 27, 2014 by Bioedge.
Although euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, some Dutch pharmacists are refusing to supply the lethal drugs needed to carry it out. According to the investigative TV program Altijd Wat Monitor, this does not necessarily happen because of religious objections to euthanasia. Some pharmacists do not know the doctors who approved the euthanasia; others do not agree with euthanasia for conditions like dementia or depression. 
“A pharmacy is not a shop where deadly drugs are just handed over,” a spokesperson for the pharmacists’ association said.
Pharmacists have no official role in the euthanasia protocols and they are not obliged to cooperate. According to Annemieke Horikx, of the association, they should not be regarded as mere instruments in the hands of doctors. “If you don’t agree you can’t continue,” she said. She also complained that doctors call pharmacies and demand immediate service. “That’s no way to request medication. These are matters of life and death we’re dealing with.”
Green MP Linda Voortman was outraged by the news and wants the Health Minister to intervene. “Pharmacists should not be able to refuse what two doctors have approved,” she said.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The value of life in Switzerland

This article was written by Paul Russell, the director of HOPE Australia and published on the Hope Australia Blog on April 25, 2014.

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell, HOPE Australia - April 25, 2014

How should acts of euthanasia or assisted suicide that fall outside the parameters of the law be dealt with by the relevant authorities?

This is an important question because euthanasia and/or assisted suicide laws create an exception to a nation or state's criminal code on homicide. These laws effectively mean that, under prescribed circumstances it is licit to kill someone or to be directly involved in their death. In all other cases, that is to say, for deaths where the legal requirements for a person to qualify are not met, the logical conclusion should be that such cases would constitute an offence under the homicide laws.

Provisions such as free and fully informed consent, a formal diagnosis and confirmation that the person has full capacity for decision making are common elements of euthanasia & assisted suicide acts and bills. They are intended to ensure that no-one is coerced towards their death, that no-one is killed against their will or where their will is not known and that they are not influenced by depression or suicidal ideation. Without such expressions, limitations or 'safeguards' no euthanasia or assisted suicide bill would ever be likely to pass scrutiny of legislatures. These expressions give voice to the reality that vulnerable people could be at risk. But they are, in reality, little more than gestures of concern that can and will be tested.

Philippe Freiburghaus
Take the case of Swiss doctor, Philippe Freiburghaus. In July, 2013 a Swiss regional court found Freiburghaus guilty of killing an 89 year old man for whom there had been no formal diagnosis, even though the man had claimed to be suffering pain, had attempted suicide and was threatening suicide.

The Swiss journal, The Local reported:
The prosecution argued that Freiburghaus had “crossed the line” by failing to follow the legal regulations, which require that a doctor must properly diagnose the presence of an incurable illness and a short life expectancy before assisting suicide.
Freiburghaus told the court he acted out of compassion in prescribing sodium pentobarbital to the elderly man, who was suffering from pain and had tried to end his life.
The report went on to put Freiburghaus' side of the story:
Freiburghaus remained unrepentant, expressing disbelief over the court’s decision, according to an online report from Le Matin.
“Soon a doctor will no longer be able to do anything without contravening legal niceties,” he is quoted as saying by the newspaper.
'Legal niceties' is chillingly Orwellian and a dismissive attitude to the law and to life itself that would seem to betray Freiburghaus' attitude. But it also betrays the attitude of the court whose decision against the defendant in finding him guilty was simply to impose a fine of 500 francs which even The Local described as 'symbolic'.

So, the price of a life in Switzerland is 500 francs and the Swiss laws on homicide are reduced to a symbolic sham. But, as if that were not enough, Freiburghaus recently appealed the judgement and, surprise, surprise, it was overturned this week by a cantonal court.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is not safe.

This letter was submitted to the Globe and Mail, but not printed, in response to an article that was written by Jeffrey Simpson.

Oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide. Sign the Declaration of Hope.

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director 
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

I would like to thank Jeffrey Simpson for his comments on assisted death, but his inaccurate analysis actually shows why assisted suicide should not be legalized.

Canada has debated assisted death on many occasions with the most recent vote in parliament occurring in April 2010 when assisted death was defeated by a vote of 228 to 59. That was a pretty strong consensus, even if Simpson was not pleased with its result.

One reason the bill in 2010 was overwhelmingly defeated was that the language of the bill was imprecise and permissive. When Simpson refers to the recent bill in Quebec he stated that it contained appropriate safeguards, and yet the language of the Quebec bill was also imprecise and permissive.

The Quebec euthanasia bill and Bill C-384 would have allowed euthanasia for psychological pain such as chronic depression or mental illness, which are treatable conditions, and these bills were not limited to terminally ill people.

When examining Fletcher’s euthanasia bills we see the same language being used except that Fletcher is not imprecise but rather intentional. The language of Fletcher’s bills specifically focus on assisted death for people with disabilities and once again he specifically allows assisted death for psychological conditions. Fletcher’s bills are also not limited to terminal illness.

Simpson states that there is no consensus among medical professionals. A Canadian Medical Association poll in 2013 found that only 16% of its members were willing to participate in assisted death and a 2010 survey of Canadian palliative care physicians  found that 88% were opposed to assisted death. A consensus appears to exist.

Simpson referred to the jurisdictions where assisted death is legal and stated that it represents a very small percentage of the deaths. The number of assisted deaths in the Netherlands doubled in the past 6 years, with 23% of the assisted deaths being unreported while assisted death for psychiatric reasons tripled last year alone.

This year Belgium extended euthanasia to children and in the Netherlands the Groningen Protocol allows assisted death for children born with disabilities.

In response to the Fletcher bills, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) stated that we welcomed an open debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Ignoring the facts is at our own peril. 

Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is not safe.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Swiss doctor acquitted for assisting a suicide without a diagnosis.

A Swiss appeals court appears to have decided that it is OK to kill a person for any reason. 

On April 23, 2014, a Swiss appeals court overturned a regional court conviction for a doctor who assisted a suicide of a man without a diagnosis.

Last July, a Swiss regional court found Dr. Philippe Freiburghaus “crossed the line” by assisting a suicide without obtaining a diagnoses.

The reasons for overturning the lower court decision were not made public.

The Swiss news reported that:

Freiburghaus told a regional court at Boudry, last June, that he acted out of compassion in prescribing a lethal dose to the elderly man, who suffered pain and had tried to commit suicide. 
... Assisted suicide, is legal in Switzerland. 
Freiburghaus said the man was suffering unbearable pain but the doctor was unable to get a precise diagnosis of the patient’s condition because he refused to be treated, according to a report from Le Matin newspaper.
In his conviction, Freiburghaus was fined 500 francs ($566 US dollars) for assisting a suicide without a diagnosis. The decision of the higher court eliminated the fine. This case was being closely watched in Switzerland as it relates to other cases.

Pietro D'Amico
A recent study published in the Journal Epidemiology examined 1301 assisted suicide deaths in Switzerland found that 16% of the people who died had no reported illness.

Recently an 89-year-old British woman died by assisted suicide in Switzerland because she felt alienated from the modern world.

In April 2013, an Italian man, Pietro D'Amico, died by assisted suicide in Switzerland after receiving a wrong diagnosis.

In May 2013, the European Court of Human Rights said that Switzerland did not provide clear enough guidelines on who could obtain lethal drugs.

Switzerland lacks any reasonable guidelines concerning assisted suicide. It was a travesty of justice that the doctor was only fined 500 francs for assisting a suicide without a diagnosis, now the court is simply saying go ahead and kill.

The rest of the world should realize that this is the outcome of legalized assisted suicide.

Links to similar articles:

Arizona assisted suicide law tightened.

Arizona state capital building
The Arizona Daily Star has reported that:
The Arizona House has given final approval to a bill that aims to make it easier to prosecute people who help someone commit suicide. 
Republican Rep. Justin Pierce of Mesa says his bill will make it easier for attorneys to prosecute people for manslaughter for assisting in suicide by more clearly defining what it means to "assist." 
House Bill 2565 defines assisting in suicide as providing the physical means used to commit suicide, such as a gun. The bill originally also defined assisted suicide as "offering" the means to commit suicide, but a Senate amendment omitted that word. 
The proposal was prompted by a difficult prosecution stemming from a 2007 assisted suicide in Maricopa County. 
The House approved the bill 35-19 Wednesday. It will now go to the governor's desk.
This bill was a response to an assisted suicide organizations involvement in a 2007 assisted suicide death.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Palliative care leaders oppose Québec Liberal government's possible plan to introduce euthanasia bill.

By: Dr Balfour Mount, the father of palliative care in Canada.
and Dr Serge Daneault, the chief of palliative care at University Hospital in Montreal.

Dr Balfour Mount
This letter was in the Montreal Gazette on April 23, 2014.

We congratulate Philippe Couillard on his victory in the April 7 election. Nonetheless we feel compelled to express our deep disappointment, and that of many medical colleagues and other Quebec citizens, at his announcement the day after the election that he intends to reintroduce Bill 52, including medical aid in dying.

Dr Serge Daneault
Knowing that in October 2013 he expressed serious reservations about the “medical aid in dying” component of Bill 52, we are mystified by his about-face on this very grave question. It is impossible to legalize euthanasia without putting vulnerable patients at risk, as the experience in Belgium and other countries shows clearly. Bill 52, with or without the amendments, goes even farther than the Belgian law; it defines medical homicide as health care and requires that it be available to all patients who meet the exceedingly broad criteria set out in the bill. As a physician, he is conscious of the power imbalance between physicians and their patients, and how patients can be manipulated to consent even by well-meaning health professionals.

The majority of the citizens and health professionals who made submissions to the Select Committee on Dying with Dignity in 2010-11 opposed legalization of euthanasia, but the report recommended it. The fact that the vast majority of palliative care physicians oppose euthanasia was systematically ignored by the commission and the preceding government. The public, which seems to be clamouring for so-called death with dignity, is largely unaware that what is being proposed to them is a homicidal act and that skilled palliative care and wise management of end-of-life decisions are sufficient to address the fears leading to their request.

From the legal and political point of view, it is clear that the Quebec government lacks jurisdiction to legalize euthanasia, which is contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada, and that this component of the bill will be challenged in court, cause a confrontation with the federal government and ultimately be found illegal. We urge Couillard to examine the legal opinions of the ministry of Justice on this aspect and to publish them as he has promised to do with those regarding the validity of the Secularism Charter (Bill 60).

Balfour Mount MD
Emeritus Eric M. Flanders Professor of Medicine, McGill University

Serge Daneault MD
Chief, Palliative Care Service, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM)

Euthanasia undermines protection in law for me.

By Steven Passmore - The Hamilton Spectator, April 23, 2014.

Steve Passmore met with
Steven Fletcher in 2009.
After significant reflection concerning Steven Fletcher’s response to my letter about his euthanasia bills, I find it interesting that he stated that my concerns about his motives are ridiculous.

When I was younger I had several very painful surgeries. If someone had asked me, while I was in severe pain, if I wanted to die, I would have said Yes. When I am at a low point in my life, I do not want someone questioning me about whether I should live.

Fletcher’s euthanasia bills undermine protections in law for me.

Fletcher states that his bills will “empower competent adults to make decisions for themselves based on their own values and ethics.”

His bills actually empower physicians and the state to kill people by euthanasia.

People with disabilities, people with Alzheimer’s/Dementia, people with cognitive disabilities, are all at risk by Fletcher’s bills. Fletcher speaks about choice, but these people are dependent on others to make decision for them.

In Belgium a recent study found that people withAlzheimer’s/Dementia or in coma were often being killed without request, and yet the Belgium law has the same – supposed safeguards – as Fletcher’s bills.

In Switzerland the assisted death groups haveestablished themselves in nursing homes. Once assisted death becomes a legal option it also becomes an ever present suggestion.

Legalizing euthanasia does not create greater rights for people with disabilities and the frail elderly but rather it will often lead to the death of vulnerable people.

Steven Passmore

Hamilton Ontario

Links to similar articles: 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Euthanasia cannot be contained, especially if the criteria is to eliminate suffering.

By Paul Russell - the Director of Hope Australia and Vice Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition - International. This article was originally published by Hope Australia.
Paul Russell
In November last year I attended a debate in Brussells between my Canadian colleague, Alex Schadenberg and two leading Belgian pro-euthanasia academics.
As I reported at the time, the comments made by Professor Etienne Vermeersch in not only defending the Belgian laws but also in arguing that there was ‘not enough euthanasia’ in his country left many of us speechless. Vermeersch was very clear: his aim to eliminate all suffering is a program of eliminating all sufferers. His observation that ‘not enough euthanasia’ deaths were occurring followed by a pointed attack on an audience member where Vermeersch said, ‘Wait until you are paralyzed’ said it all.
No-one wants to suffer and no-one wishes suffering upon another. This point, at least, we can say that we share with Vermeersch. But once we make the elimination of suffering the criteria for killing people were spinning out of control in a vortex that has only one logical conclusion: totally unfettered and unregulated euthanasia – with or without request.
We should be wary of accepting the opinion of one academic to draw such a calamitous conclusion. But Vermeersch’s words are also supported by what has occurred and what continues to occur in his country.
One recent example of what we could call ‘euthanasia anarchy’ should send shivers down the spines of any thoughtful observer. An official recent statement from the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine boldly asserted that doctors need to be able to give lethal injections to shorten lives which are no longer worth living, even if the patients have not given their consent.
Michael Cook, from Mercatornet reports:
The Society has decided (decreed may be a better word) that it is acceptable medical practice to euthanase patients in critical care who do not appear to have long to live — even if they are not suffering, even if they are not elderly, even if their relatives have not requested it, even if they have not requested it and even if it is not legal.
The Society spells out its policy very carefully. It is not about grey areas like withdrawing burdensome or futile treatment or balancing pain relief against shortening a patient’s life. It clearly states that “shortening the dying process by administering sedatives beyond what is needed for patient comfort can be not only acceptable but in many cases desirable”.
“Shortening the dying process” is a euphemism for administering a lethal injection.
Most dying patients in intensive care have not made advance directives and “are usually not in a position to request euthanasia”.
Therefore, “difficulty can arise when the purpose of the drugs used for comfort and pain relief in end-of-life management is misconstrued as deliberate use to speed the dying process.” The Society’s solution to this difficulty is to allow its members to kill the patients.
Note: Belgian law does not support such behaviour, but it is likely, in a country that recently supported euthanasia for children, that this is being received by the Belgian populous with little more than a passing thought.
And for those who might be tempted to find solace in the thought that euthanasia laws might somehow protect vulnerable people, think again: This behaviour shows up the recent intense parliamentary debate on child euthanasia in Belgium as the sham that it really always was.
Whilst the law makers deliberated over euthanasia for children, including so-called safeguards, the medicos themselves have said, in very clear terms, that the law–regardless of what it does and does not allow–is redundant; that they and they alone will decide who lives and who dies. The statement is, by the way, inclusive of euthanasia for children in the same terms.
This kind of thinking, that the doctors are the prime (if not sole) moral agents and ethical guides in determining who should die by euthanasia, is quite common. We first saw a public expression of this kind of development in 2004/5 in The Netherlands with the advent of the Groningen Protocol which allows for the euthanasia of disabled neonates.
This remains, as it was then, outside the parameters of the Dutch law. As a postscript, the Dutch Medical Association said in 2013 that ‘parental suffering’ was a sufficient reason for infant euthanasia, even in circumstances where the child might not actually be suffering.

Celebration Dinner - May 30 - Nashua New Hampshire

John Kelly
Nancy Elliott has organized a Victory Celebration Dinner on Friday, May 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua New Hamphsire to celebrate the overwhelming defeat of assisted suicide in NH. The celebration extends to other New England states, including: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Quebec. 

John Kelly the New England regional director for Not Dead Yet, will be the dinner speaker. The cost for the dinner is $35.

There will be a leaders meeting in the afternoon of May 30. 
For more information contact Alex Schadenberg.

Book a room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for $119 under the name "Euthanasia Prevention Coalition" by calling: 1-603-886-1200.

Payment to (Euthanasia Prevention Coalition) Box 611309 Port Huron MI 48061-1309.

Contact Alex Schadenberg at: 1-877-439-3348 or
or contact Nancy Elliott at:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Patients diagnosed as PVS can be dehydrated to death. What if the diagnosis is wrong?

This article was written by Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo. Bobby and his family operate the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network. This article was published by LifeNews on April 21, 2014.

Bobby Schindler will be speaking at the First National Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide on May 2 -3, 2014 in Minneapolis Minnesota.
The parents of Terri Schiavo.
By Bobby Schindler
I have written time and time again about the dangerous and dehumanizing persistent vegetative state (PVS) diagnosis. Actually, we saw in my family’s battle to save my sister, Terri Schiavo, from death by dehydration, that a tremendous amount of debate raged over whether or not she was in this condition.
In fact, this diagnosis is what allowed the court to order the removal of Terri’s food and water. Yet despite continuing research validating that the PVS diagnosis is growing in its inaccuracy, the medical community uses this diagnosis to end countless lives of our medically vulnerable patients who are allegedly in this condition.
The Journal’s report, released on Feb. 3, revealed that some patients who were believed to be in a PVS were actually able to understand and communicate. Through the use of functional magnetic resonance scanning (fMRI), researchers in the United Kingdom estimated that a percentage of those patients suffering from profound brain injuries possessed the capacity to comprehend and communicate in limited ways.
Terri Schiavo
Indeed, every time these studies are published we should move to abolish the PVS diagnosis, in particularly, using it as a reason to kill. Sadly, however, despite these imaging studies and what they reveal about the human brain, the vast majority of the medical community sees nothing improper about using such an unscientific diagnosis for, what usually turns out to be, reasons almost never in the best interest of the patients.
Furthermore, not only can the PVS diagnosis be used as an actual death sentence for a patient, but as a death sentence figuratively speaking, as well. And it seems both are supported under the pretext to save health care costs. You see, the PVS can also be used to cut off funds for a person in need of vital rehabilitation. Because once insurance providers receive the PVS diagnosis in regards to the patient’s condition, no longer are they willing to pay for any rehabilitative services.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Susan Martinuk: Euthanasia debate is alive and well

This column was written by Susan Martinuk and published in the Calgary Herald on April 18.

Susan Martinuk
By Susan Martinuk

When you don’t have facts and/or good arguments, the only way to win a debate is to declare the discussion obsolete and anoint yourself the winner.

That’s what happened last week in the debate over euthanasia (where one individual deliberately kills another to “end their suffering”) and assisted suicide (where one individual provides the means, information or whatever is required for another to commit suicide so as to “end their suffering”).

An April 7 commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal arrogantly suggested that the “yes or no debate” is over, arguments about sanctity of life, personal autonomy and intolerable suffering may now be obsolete and it’s time for doctors to focus on establishing guidelines and policies (“we may need them very soon”) that would “suit the Canadian context.”

As the authors no doubt hoped, the editorial created substantial media buzz, and some headlines and news reports gave the public the incorrect perception that this was a dictate of the Canadian Medical Association or Canada’s palliative care physicians.

That it was printed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in no way means that it is CMA policy. As in any truly free academic journal, editorial opinions and scientific interpretations are not censored. However, in this particular case, this commentary runs counter to CMA policies (reaffirmed as recently as 2013) that overwhelmingly oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, calling it “unethical” and “in conflict with basic ethical principles of medical practice.”

In addition, the suggestion that the debate is over and doctors should practically prepare to deal with euthanasia does not have the support of Canada’s doctors or palliative care physicians.

A 2013 Canadian Medical Association poll showed that just 16 per cent of its members would be willing to participate in the taking of a life. A 2010 survey by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians found that 88 per cent of its members were opposed to euthanasia and 80 per cent were against legalization of assisted suicide.

The American Medical Association says euthanasia/assisted suicide is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role” and the World Medical Association calls it “unethical” and asks all national medical associations and physicians to refrain from participating in it — even if laws allow it.

In other words, the vast majority of physicians oppose any legalization of the practice and the insistence on calling it an unethical practice reinforces the idea that even if these practices are legalized, they will still be anathema to a physicians’ role and responsibility to a patient.