Sunday, December 3, 2023

A Warning from Canada to Hungary about Euthanasia

Dear Hungarians,

Amanda Achtman
I visited your country this time last year and was deeply impressed and inspired by it. Now that I hear Hungary is considering legalizing euthanasia, I must issue a warning to you about this from my home country of Canada.

Canada legalized euthanasia nationwide in 2016. Since then, with the criteria expanded and safeguards eroded, euthanasia now accounts for 4.1% of all deaths and is the fifth leading cause of death.

In fact, the number of Canadians who have died by euthanasia since legalization is commensurate with the total number of Canadians who died of Covid.

Having monitored the debate and expansion of euthanasia closely for the past several years, I have some important information to share with you that will hopefully prevent Hungary from going down the same path.

Euthanasia will not be limited.

Initially, euthanasia was legalized for those whose deaths were deemed “reasonably foreseeable.” Patients were required to have a “grievous and irremediable” condition. But soon, this was seen as discriminatory against those who were suffering but not imminently dying. And so, a second track (literally named “Track 2”) was created to qualify for euthanasia those whose deaths were not imminent. Initially, this was for those suffering from physical pain but then this was seen as discriminatory against those who were suffering from psychological pain. So, euthanasia was expanded to those not imminently dying and to those with psychological suffering rather than physical all under the rubric of equality. As long as euthanasia is seen as a reasonable solution to suffering, then there is no limit as to who should quality for this relief. For this reason, euthanasia activists have advised euthanasia for children who, when speaking before parliamentary committess, they refer to as “mature minors.” As soon as euthanasia is seen as a good for society and for suffering persons, any rationale to limit it will be arbitrary and considered unjust by at least some of those who are excluded by the criteria.

Euthanasia will undermine suicide prevention efforts.

Though we have gone through many euphemisms, nothing can change the reality that euthanasia is simply suicide with an accomplice. The euthanasia lobby stopped using the terms euthanasia and assisted suicide because it is bad for public relations. And so, we have gone from “euthanasia” to “assisted suicide” to “physician-assisted suicide” to “medical aid in dying.” Now in law, politics, and journalism, the English acronym for the latter is used universally. This deadens people’s consciences so that they do not realize that premature killing is precisely what is meant by “MAID.” As George Orwell said, “As language corrupts thought, so thought also corrupts language.” Many people who work in palliative care believe that palliative care is the true assistance in dying; they would never dream of killing their patients. But now, these lines are becoming blurred. Unfortunately, we now have a two-tier society where some people get suicide prevention and others get suicide assistance. This is terribly unjust because everyone deserves suicide prevention.

Euthanasia will devalue the lives of people with disabilities.

Many people with whom I speak tell me they think euthanasia is reasonable for persons with a certain illness or disability. They will usually name a particular condition that, in their mind, justifies premature death. Yet, even if they would say that euthanasia should never be coerced, suggesting that there is any threshold at which a person’s life is not worth living denigrates their life and sends the message that their life is less valuable. Furthermore, many persons with disabilities attest that they are being de facto coerced to consider euthanasia due to lack of adequate supports to live. I cannot stand by idly when my fellow citizens with disabilities attest that they are tempted to seek euthanasia because they lack housing, money for food, accesibility provisions, or even family, friends, or visitors who care about them. This is clearly an urgent cry for help, not death.

Euthanasia will threaten the doctor-patient relationship.

When a doctor raises euthanasia with a patient, it already deflates them. Simply put, it is dehumanizing to tell someone that they qualify to die. In Canada, many advocates tried to ensure that euthanasia would only ever be patient-initiated. At least, this way, patients would not be counselled to consider suicide in a moment of weakness, vulnerability, or pain. But now it is the complete opposite. Doctors are being compelled to present “MAID” as an option to all eligible patients which, as you can see, is many of them. Even if someone does not choose euthanasia for themselves, it takes a toll to even have it suggested or to know that the phsyician has euthanized other patients or referred them to their deaths. This makes it harder to trust that the doctor will truly do everything for the sake of preserving health. Euthanasia is an easy way out and, since it is legal and commonplace, there is next to no investigation of the abuses which often leaves grieving family members traumatized.

Euthanasia will cut short our opportunities to love.

Premature death cuts short the capacity to show and receive kindness in the world. Every euthanasia death short circuits our opportunities to love. And if someone is asking for euthanasia because they do not feel loved in first place, then the right response is not lazy indifference (sometimes masqueraded as “support”) but rather a loving and urgent intervention. Those who are in need make an appeal to us. It is so important that we do not miss the opportunity to respond to them. It is the very basis of our humanity to be responsible in this way -- to care and be cared for.

To avoid descending into a euthanasia society, my recommendations are to:
  1. Provide the supports that people across diverse demographics need to live.
  2. Bolster self-harm and suicide prevention efforts across all generations.
  3. Work toward ever-better inclusion of persons with disabilities.
  4. Insist on the role of doctor as healer, not killer.
  5. Affirm the value of those suffering and caregiving heroically by letting them know that it’s good they exist. Notice the challenge that it is to suffer, die, and caregive well and praise those who are doing it for their courage.
Through promoting these actions and attitudes, we can create a society where dying naturally is not shameful or “undignified”, but rather a supreme occasion for realizing what is significant in life. All of this is what the dying person deserves. And for all of us, one day that dying person will be us.

Amanda Achtman recently served as the senior advisor to a Canadian parliamentarian working to prevent the expansion of euthanasia on the basis of disability and mental illness. She currently works with Canadian Physicians for Life on ethics education and cultural engagement. Amanda is also the founder of Dying to Meet You, a project dedicated to preventing euthanasia and encouraging hope.

@AmandaAchtman /


Victor Bonnici said...

I agree with your letter. Bravo!
I am shocked to know that even a teenager with (temporary) depression can be suggested by a doctor to have a choice to end their young life.

I also learned that a doctor can come to your home to euthanize you. I don't think that house call for health visits is generally not available. I thought doctors' Hippocratic Oath says, "to do no harm."

Alex Schadenberg said...

The rules have not been clearly designed but the law says that the person would need to have an "irremediable medical condition."

Therefore it is unlikely that a 18 year old with temporary depression would be poisoned to death by their doctor.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this great summary! We will use it in the recent Euthanasia debate in Hungary!

Anonymous said...

I am Hungarian. The world has to end the practices of euthanasia.
They promised to end the torture and end eugenics.
I support natural living.
In Sophie Scholls White Rose Activist group quotes
Every life is precious.
In the Bible 10 Commandments Shall not murder. Do not meddle with owns affairs.
Abolish euthanasia. Ban euthanasia.
I speak against euthanasia. Euthanasia is human cruelty.

Murray said...

What a fantastic letter defending human life. With the grace of God may the Hungarian government listen.