Thursday, February 16, 2023

Euthanasia doctor regrets killing a patient with a treatable condition.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Macleans Magazine has published an insightful interview by Liza Agrba with Dr Madeline Li, a Canadian euthanasia doctor. The article: I am a MAiD provider. It's the most meaningful - and maddening work that I do. Here's why explains the concerns that Li has with Canada's euthanasia Li from the perspective of a doctor who does it.

Li specializes in cancer psychology with the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto and is the head of the UHN's MAiD program. Li states:
I oversaw hundreds of cases. I also personally provided MAID numerous times. I can’t tell you how many, because I don’t keep track. They’re not trophies—this is usual care. I see a lot of death: 60 per cent of my patient population in routine clinical care die. I don’t keep track of how I help them die, whether by MAID or my regular psychosocial care.
Li is interesting because she is an active euthanasia doctor while thinking Canada has gone too far. Li continues:
Being a MAID provider requires what I call exquisite professionalism: my personal values shouldn’t matter when it comes to how I assess a patient for MAID. Having said that, my opinion is that we shouldn’t be providing MAID for mental disorders—and more broadly than that, for chronic illness. I don’t think death should be society’s solution for all forms of suffering. Society needs to agree on what types of suffering are appropriate to respond to with MAID. If someone is suffering primarily because they can’t afford housing rather than directly from a qualifying medical condition, do we think that death is the appropriate solution for that? If your suffering is because you can’t afford your medication, or other structural vulnerabilities only indirectly related to a medical condition, is that a good reason for MAID? I personally think this is the medicalization of suffering, but I’m a servant of my country, and I will do what the public mandate demands. I’m just not sure we have that mandate.

My concern with Li's comments is that she views her values as not mattering when assessing someone for death and she views her role as being a servant to her country. Killing becomes dangerous when a person disconnects it from their personal values and they agree to do it in service to their country. Remember, others in history have stated: "I was only following orders."
Li then explains some of her concerns:
I also find it maddening that the law itself is missing crucial safeguards for patients. The original MAID law stipulated, among other requirements, that a patient’s natural death has to be “reasonably foreseeable.” In 2021, this condition was successfully challenged in a court case, which created a second MAID track for people with serious and chronic (but not life-threatening) illness. This year, the law was set to expand to include patients whose sole reason for seeking MAID is mental illness. The government just announced that it would seek a one-year delay in the expansion to allow more time to prepare the health-care system. The delay was the right move.
The problem with Li's arguement is that she is suggesting that what is needed is more guidelines and training for euthanasia practitioners.

Li then comments on the reality of euthanasia and loneliness.
The stakes are higher when you give MAID to someone who wouldn’t otherwise die. I was on call recently and was consulted to see a patient admitted to the hospital for chronic pain. This patient has a complex medical and psychiatric history, significant trauma and a lot of psychosocial vulnerability. They are lonely. The patient was told there is nothing further that could be done for their pain, and so they asked to apply for MAID.

I was not their MAID assessor, but I was asked to consult as a psychiatrist for depression and suicidality. The patient told me that if they didn’t feel quite as lonely, if they felt that anyone cared about them at all, they probably could tolerate their pain better. I expressed to this patient that I thought it would be a great loss to society if they died because they had contributed and still had a lot to offer. In other words, I expressed caring, which seemed to mean everything to this person.
The lonely person was offered treatment that the person couldn't afford.
I did my best to advocate for getting this person into a study for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, which I thought could be very helpful, but I wasn’t successful. There was no way they could afford it privately, since it costs thousands of dollars. This was so morally distressing to me. This person was willing to have the treatment, but couldn’t access it. I think it would be a tragedy if this lovely person went ahead with MAID. As far as I know, this person is now applying for MAID. I have no doubt in my mind that when they apply, they could be found eligible and receive it.
That case gives me so much distress.
The person may have benefited from psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, but this person really needed a caring friend. Li states that she has to fight with herself not to follow the patient and counsel them, but considering the fact that this person needs a friend, saving the life of this person. Li continues:
The law desperately needs a greater role for clinical perspective. Right now, MAID assessment is a checklist of legal requirements: you have to be considered capable of making your own decisions, be above 18 years of age and have a “grievous and irremediable” condition, among other stipulations. It’s about checking boxes. More than that, MAID assessors typically parachute into a patient’s life: they don’t typically have a long-term relationship with them.
Li explains a case of a person who had treatable cancer but died by euthanasia.
Early on, I had a young patient who had cancer with a 65 per cent chance of cure. This person refused any treatment, and two other MAID assessors agreed they met all the eligibility criteria, in that they had a grievous and irremediable condition—it was irremediable because they didn’t want the treatments available. That’s what the law currently states: as long as the patient doesn’t want the treatment, their condition is considered irremediable—even if there are effective treatments.

But not treating a cancer with such a high chance of cure goes against medical practice standards. The doctors involved had a lot of moral distress about this person’s request for MAID. This person signed consent for me to share their story, but I feel differently about it than they did. They saw it as an expression of their autonomy; I saw it as dystopian.
It is concerning that Li killed this person, even though she disagreed. Li continues:
This person organized a goodbye party. They invited all their friends to the hospital atrium and ordered pizza, calling it a reverse birthday party. It was a large gathering of friends. They had about eight people in the room where I was going to administer MAID. They got into a hospital bed, and everyone in the room laid a hand on them. There was so much crying in the room, including from their parents.

The IV was set up and prepared. “This is the very last time I’ll ask you this,” I said. “Are you sure?” They looked at me and said yes. And then the syringes went in, one after the other. The whole thing usually takes about five minutes, although it took longer than usual in this case because the patient was otherwise young and healthy. Eventually their heart stopped, I left the room and did my usual post-MAID routine: called the coroner, reported the death and filled out the paperwork. We always have social workers and spiritual care available for the family and friends, but this time no one asked for additional support. After the coroner cleared everything, they started drifting off one by one.

I didn’t regret it at first. But when I started thinking deeply about how to better safeguard this process, I regretted ending this young person’s life.
Li then comments about her concerns with euthanasia for mental disorders.
Gaps in the law become a bigger problem with mental disorders. It’s not at all clear, even for a practising psychiatrist like me, what to do for a patient with a mental illness who asks to die. I recently had a patient with chronic depression who was planning to apply for MAID until we finally found an effective treatment. They asked me how requests in patients with depression would eventually be assessed. I said we’d have to distinguish a rational desire to die from one driven by depression, and they replied, “But why would I want to die if it wasn’t because of the depression?” That gave me pause. At the very least, I think we need to prompt clinicians to exercise clinical judgment—both the clinician and the patient should feel that there have been reasonable attempts at treatment. And rather than just checking boxes, we should have to sit down and have a meaningful conversation about the desire for death.
Li then comments on the lack of definition concerning "reasonably foreseeable death".
Finally, there needs to be a clear temporal timeframe in the law assigned to the phrase “reasonably foreseeable natural death.” This was part of the original law, which was very Canadian—it was purposefully vague so as not to upset anybody. But in practice, providers have interpreted this to mean anything from a few months for terminal illness to several years for chronic illness. The MAID track for people who don’t have a reasonably foreseeable natural death is more safeguarded, including a 90-day waiting period and required expertise on the condition underlying the request. It’s not safe clinical practice for people who potentially have years to live to bypass these safeguards.
Li concludes by stating:
Helping someone die, especially when they wouldn’t otherwise, shouldn’t be a matter of checking things off a list.
Li is correct in her concerns about the lack of oversight and the language of Canada's euthanasia law but she is wrong in her ideology. She admits that she has killed people, even when she disagreed, because the death had been approved and she views her role as being morally neutral and acting as a servant of the country. When your service to the country includes killing people, then you need to re-evaluate your purpose.


Vi said...

:( Ugh! I am grieved on sooooo many levels! :( MURDER IS NEVER RIGHT. Not even if someone else is REQUESTING it, because each & every MURDERER WILL be held accountable one GLORIOUS day! Regardless if unbelievers disagree with that. THIS/GOD'S Word/Truth is NOT debatable no matter HOW hard & loud they chirp. Our Almighty GOD/CREATOR in Heaven's JUDGMENT is coming for rebelling, listening to the creature [instead of the Creator] & for taking part in MURDERING HIS CREATION. WAKE UP! REPENT & SEEK JESUS, ALL OF YOU MURDERERS [for YOUR sake], or you WILL live eternally [in TORMENT] to REGRET it... :(
2 Corinthians 5:10
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

Revelation 21:8
8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

A said...

Too bad she has no way to relieve her psychological suffering.