Thursday, October 15, 2009

Public Opinion and the Law: 75% of Canadian Physicians Favor Legalizing Euthanasia.

Canada's been feverishly and publicly debating the legalization of euthanasia (or physician assisted suicide or death with dignity or aid in dying) for months now. Today CBCNews reports a poll of 2025 physicians or medical specialists that shows 75% support the legalization of euthanasia. Per the article:

Of 2,025 medical specialists who answered a poll on the subject, 75 per cent said they were "certainly" or "probably" in favour of legalizing euthanasia, as long as the practice were strictly regulated.

The president of the federation of medical specialists, Dr. Gaétan Barrette, said doctors already see some form of euthanasia in the course of their work.

"Eighty one per cent of doctors do see the practice of euthanasia given the circumstances in their practice," Barrette said. "They hear their patients, they see their patients, asking for it."

The federation said Quebec society is overdue to hold a debate on the issue.

Barrette says the results of the survey prove that the specialists are in step with Quebec society.

A recent Angus Reid poll found that 77 per cent of Quebecers support the move to legalize euthanasia.

Barrette says the debate over euthanasia is similar to the one 20 years surrounding legal access to abortion.

I take away two great points from this quote: that the legalization of euthanasia is "similar" to the fight to legalize abortion. And that both doctors and society approve of the legalization.

If the public and doctors approve, what could prevent euthanasia from being legal in Canada? The vocal, powerful, well-funded, and entrenched "pro-life" conservatives! And if legalization occurs, can we expect the same limiting of access that has proven so successful among "pro-life" groups? Both there and here in the US, I would venture a yes. Dr. Tiller, harrassed and ultimately killed for performing a legal and life-saving service to women, serves as a sad and visceral example.

The article continues to quote Barrette:

He said doctors hesitated to perform abortions despite the wishes of the public.

"Society was ahead," he said. "Doctors came after, and then governments legislated much later after [the] Superior Court had to rule [ on the issue]," he said.

A clear law on euthanasia is needed, Barrette said.

Only when guidelines are in place can doctors, patients and their families make an informed decision on the course of treatment for someone who is terminally ill, he said.

In the US, where public opinion regarding the legalization of Death with Dignity may well lag behind government ruling (as with civil rights, abortion, and gay rights), we've learned that a democracy does a terrible job of protecting the rights of minority groups. Racism, "family values," and homophobia have dominated the culture and prevented public opinion from correcting great injustices via law. The courts and government have had to step in.

On the legalization of euthanasia in Canada, the opposite seems to be the case.

You can find more on the fight for assisted suicide in Canada here, here, here, and here.

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Blogger Ethos said...

For assisted suicide but against voluntary euthanasia !

About the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must distinguish between the legal, ethical and religious arguments. One cannot just say without qualification that there is no difference between the two : in one case it is the patient himself who take his own life (assisted suicide), whereas in euthanasia it is the physician. One must first specify on what grounds (legal, ethical or religious) he draws is arguments. In the field of ethics, one can reasonably argue that there is no difference between the two. However, in the legal field, there is a difference between euthanasia (so-called first-degree murder with a minimum sentence of life imprisonment) and assisted suicide (which is not a murder or homicide and which the maximum sentence is 14 years of imprisonment). In the case of assisted suicide, the cause of death is the patient's suicide and assisted suicide is somehow a form of complicity (infraction of complicity). But since the attempted suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972 (and in 1810 in France), this complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

« In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, "is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone": Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

In contrast, voluntary euthanasia is considered a first-degree murder. The doctor kills the patient (at his request) by compassion to relieve his pain and suffering. There's a violation of one of the most fundamental ethical and legal principles : the prohibition to kill a human being. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can remove a person's life. The end of the social contract is "the preservation of the contractors" and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We've abolished the death penalty in 1976 (and in 1981 in France) in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! Even if voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the patient) may, under certain circumstances, be justified ethically, we cannot ipso facto concluded that euthanasia should be legalized or decriminalized. The legalization or decriminalization of such an act requires that we take into account the social consequences of the legalization or decriminalization. The undeniable potential of abuse (especially for the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will) and the risk of erosion of the social ethos by the recognition of this practice are factors that must be taken into account. The risk of slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent patient) to non-voluntary euthanasia (without the consent of the incompetent patient) or involuntary (without regard to or against the consent of the competent patient) are real as confirmed by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which states :

"There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used as well to eliminate those who are a burden to others or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject's consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act ».

Eric Folot

July 14, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

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