The federal government has yet to introduce medical suicide legislation and already we are witnessing the next convulsion in the culture of death. It’s in the form of the debate, newly arisen this week, over whether 12-year-olds should be euthanized in secret.
Stunning, indeed preposterous, as those words might seem to someone freshly arrived to the issue, the truly appalling part is that they come as no surprise at all to those of us who’ve been around it for a while.
We are neither clairvoyants nor cynics. It was simply self-evident— a matter of logical consistency— that such would be the next step. So it was when an advisory panel recommended on Monday that there be no “arbitrary age” at which doctors can administer fatal doses of poisons into the veins of their patients.
The panel’s co-chair, Maureen Taylor, was quoted in the National Post as saying that while five-year-olds or seven-year-olds would “never” be put to death prematurely in Canadian hospitals, 12-year-olds could have the maturity and capacity to request lethal injection.
Meanwhile in Quebec, where a law conferring the power of execution on accredited doctors came into effect last week, controversy has foamed about whether publicly available death certificates should record euthanasia as the cause. The new Quebec law requires doctors to fudge the facts. All euthanized patients must go through a three-step protocol for doctor-administered death, which critics say bears a chilling resemblance to the way capital punishment is carried out in U.S. prisons. Once the deed is done, though, the person would be listed as having died from, say, underlying pneumonia rather the series of deadly needles overtly stuck into his or her arm.
The rationale, at least in part, is that public revelation of any euthanizing might embarrass the patient. In one news report this week, it was noted that Quebecers dying of sexually transmitted diseases can ask to be spared having “syphilis” eternally attached to their names. Of course, euthanized patients would, by the very nature of their therapeutic treatment, be dead. They would, one might think, be immune to embarrassment. Never mind. Secrecy, errrr, sensitivity apparently takes precedence over reality.
Even fervent believers in the medical delivery of death, however, have balked at such subterfuge. Jocelyn Downie, a Dalhousie University law professor and an advocate for killing as a legitimate part of the doctor-patient relationship, pointed out that if we are to have suicide by health care, we must be honest and open about it. It’s not an insignificant concern.
Prime Minister Trudeau has boisterously praised the Quebec law as a model for others to follow. And as the high-pressure deadline imposed by the Supreme Court for enactment of new pro-suicide Criminal Code provisions looms large, all jurisdictions across the country are scrambling for models to follow. Having accepted that obliging publicly funded health care providers to kill us is a social good, are we now up to the convulsive consequences that necessarily follow? Are we prepared to calmly gather and publish cold statistics on the number of pre-teen children we medically kill? Or would we rather pretend that when Tiny Tim turned 12, why, he just went to sleep in his little hospital bed and drifted away?
Those of us who’ve been closely attending this issue for much of our adult lives have long warned this day was coming as a logical step in the progress—if that’s not an utterly obscene misuse of the word—of the culture of death. Yet we have also come to recognize that, as preposterous as this might sound to some, the answer is not despair but a deepening of understanding. We need to brace ourselves against our own revulsion and resulting anger and account for the “why” as much as the “what” of the medical suicide contagion.
At Cardus, we are one of a number of Canadian organizations that have begun to look at alternatives to what is demonstrably already an outdated model of end of life care. We’ve begun exploring partnerships to bring into being a continuum of care that lets people make choices about their own deaths but that equally encourages their choosing not exclusively as a matter of right but also as a function of good. Even as the federal government is bringing in its new euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation, we’ll be making Cardus Health a big part of our program for 2016 and beyond.