Assisted-suicide advocacy is wrapped in euphemisms and false assurances. We are often told that medicalized killing will be “a last resort” reserved for the terminally ill, to be deployed only in the context of a long-term relationship with a caring doctor and, even then, strictly when there is no other way to alleviate suffering.
But that’s just sales puffery. In fact, no law requires objective proof of unalleviable pain and suffering before death can be administered. Such regulatory “protective guidelines,” as they are often called, offer to society false assurances of control and act as the honey (if you will) that helps the hemlock go down.
In societies such as Belgium and the Netherlands in which euthanasia consciousness has been popularly embraced, doctor-facilitated suicide is available to the dying, the disabled, the elderly, the mentally ill—and even some married couples who choose death over the prospect of future widowhood.
Given current events in Canada, those who have assured themselves that such horrible things could never happen here may be in for a nasty awakening, for Canada’s culture closely reflects our own. When the Canadian Supreme Court conjured in its governing Charter the right to receive euthanasia for virtually any diagnosed condition that causes “irremediable suffering”—a term that includes “psychological pain,” disability, and suffering that is deemed irremediable because alleviating treatment is refused by the patient—I hoped Canadian doctors would revolt. Instead, the medical establishment and Canadian society have actively embraced a culture of death perhaps even more radical than that infecting Belgium and the Netherlands.
An indication of the direction in which Canada is heading can be discerned by reading the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying Final Report, released on November 30, 2015. The report, which offers forty-three recommendations to effectuate the Supreme Court’s mandate, is shocking in its enthusiastic embrace of medicalized killing. Brought forward under the auspices of the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and the province’s Attorney General, the “experts” on euthanasia urge Canada to jump headfirst into the death abyss.
Even though all of the report’s recommendations might not be implemented into law, it is an important document that illustrates the radical ambition of the euthanasia movement, agendas usually kept in the shadows so as not to alarm a wary public. Here are just a few of the recommendations, followed by a brief description of why they are important:
- “All provinces and territories should ensure access to physician-assisted dying, including both physician-administered and self-administered physician-assisted dying.” Assisted-suicide advocates often claim that the requirement of self-administration is a crucial safeguard to protect the weak against non-voluntary death. In actuality, coercion can easily happen behind closed doors. Moreover, since studies in the Netherlands have shown that lethal injection has far fewer side effects—such as convulsions and extended coma—than swallowed prescribed overdoses, the application of hastened death will tend to be homicidal.
- “The provision of physician-assisted dying [should also be permitted] by a regulated health care professional (registered nurse or, if applicable, physician assistant) acting under the direction of a physician, or a nurse practitioner.” Nurses always get the dirty jobs. Allowing nurses to do the actual killing of patients not only normalizes euthanasia—giving it the appearance of just another routine medical “treatment”—but also isolates doctors from personally participating in killing, making the death prescription that much easier to dispense.
- “We do not recommend a prescribed waiting/reflection period.” People legally qualified for euthanasia who want to die now will be able to do so without waiting the time during which some find a renewed desire to live. (Adding to the danger, the committee recommends that euthanasia be available “any time” after receiving a death-qualifying diagnosis. This is particularly reckless, since the initial shock of a serious diagnosis can cause temporary thoughts of suicide.)
- “Access to physician-assisted dying should not be impeded by the imposition of arbitrary age limits . . . eligibility for physician-assisted dying is to be based on competence rather than age.” This opens the door to child euthanasia—meaning that boys and girls who cannot legally consent to being tattooed could be able lawfully to order themselves killed.
- “Faith-based institutions must either allow physician-assisted dying within the institution or make arrangements for the safe and timely transfer of the patient to a non-objecting institution.” As with religiously dissenting doctors, who the recommendations say should be required to refer “qualified” patients for euthanasia, religiously oriented medical facilities that view euthanasia as a grievous sin (say, Catholic institutions) would face coerced complicity in ending the life of a patient who wants to die.
Eliminating suffering by eliminating the sufferer is not seen by euthanasia supporters as a vice, but as a virtue. Indeed, the Advisory Group’s recommendations evidence that doctor-prescribed death could become the favored approach to dying. Lest anyone doubt that the same dark forces are acting in the United States, People magazine has splashily published at least three major hagiographic stories on Brittany Maynard, made internationally famous by the A-list media as an avatar of compassion and enlightenment because she promoted and committed assisted suicide.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. His next book, Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, which will be published in 2016.