Canada’s Changing Perspective on Euthanasia
Country-wide, Canadians continue to challenge the existing state of affairs in regard to euthanasia and other end-of-life choices.
A recent Angus Reid poll cites that some 75 per cent of Canadians are likely to voice support for doctor-assisted suicide. The majority of Canadians are dissatisfied with laws governing this issue. However, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition declares that here in Canada, “The present law does not distinguish between euthanasia, assisted suicide and other forms of murder. The key consideration is the intention to cause death. Consent or motive – even one of compassion – does not change the reality of killing a human being.”
It is clear to see that euthanasia is a divisive topic in Canada. In the past, governments have been hesitant to debate on the issue and possibly lose favour with a vocal and committed segment of the population. However, at the federal level, The Star indicates that the Liberal Party has recently created a non-binding commitment to re-examine and potentially decriminalize the act of physician-assisted suicide as an end-of-life measure.
The one concept that Canadians in all demographics, from all walks of life seem to agree on is that of compassion. Regardless of which side of the end-of-life issue we stand on, Canadians are concerned for convalescent care, honouring the human life and avoiding excess pain.
End-of-life care is an especially important topic for our aging population. Dying With Dignity states that “Control [over end-of-life options] gives peace of mind, and sometimes that is all that is needed. Studies have repeatedly shown that people are healthier when they know they have control over their lives.” Giving patients this control eases their mind; if they are committed to using a physician to assist suicide, some choose to travel to countries like Switzerland which allows foreign citizens to die on their soil with the assistance of a Swiss doctor. According to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, however, different countries and mentalities interpret this kind of care differently. For example, the site’s information pamphlet states that 32 per cent of the physician-assisted suicides in the Flanders region of Belgium were done without request or consent.
Many Canadians express concern for how euthanasia impacts the vulnerable. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition states, “Government statistics indicate that 70 per cent of elder abusers are people that the elderly depend on.” This doesn’t bode well for the case of fair and equitable application of physician assisted suicide. There is also a strong link between depression and physician assisted suicide – leading Canadians to wonder if perhaps the mental state of the patient making such a request should first be evaluated. By contrast, Dying with Dignity asserts that, “Right now, some medically assisted deaths happen without the patient’s explicit consent. Studies in the Netherlands and Belgium have shown that the rate of these deaths dropped with the legalization of medically assisted [suicide].”
There is no question that end-of-life care is a controversial subject. Opinion is still clearly divided on this issue. Canadians can expect to hear more about the topic as legislation and court decisions redefine Canada’s legal stance for its citizens.