Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canadian Assisted Suicide Case Sparks Dueling Letters on Disability

http://notdeadyetnewscommentary.blogspot.com/2011/11/canadian-assisted-suicide-case-sparks.html

By Diane Coleman & Not Dead Yet


Canadian assisted suicide proponents lost a bid to legalize assisted suicide through Parliament last year.  This year, they turned to the courts to challenge Canada’s laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia as unconstitutional.  The case is now before the Canadian court in Vancouver and the proceedings began November 14, 2011.  Plaintiffs include a woman with ALS.
The public debate is well underway.  On November 13, the Calgary Herald published an op ed by three opponents of legalization entitled “Why we should be afraid of assisted suicide.”   The authors describe the case as follows:

Carter vs. Attorney General of Canada brings a constitutional challenge to Canada's laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia. The case also seeks to legalize these practices as a medical treatment. Last year, a bill in Parliament seeking a similar result was overwhelmingly defeated…. The vote was 228 to 59.

Carter seeks to allow a medical practitioner or a person "acting under the general supervision of a medical practitioner" to assist a patient's suicide. … In the context of traditional medical treatment, "a person acting under the general supervision of a medical practitioner" would include a family member. …

As the authors point out, eligibility would not be limited to people whose condition is terminal:

In Carter, the amended notice of civil claim argues that laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide are unconstitutional for patients who are "grievously and irremediably ill." The term is not defined. The amended notice of civil claim does, however, give these examples of qualifying diseases/ conditions: "cancer, chronic renal failure and/or cardiac failure, and degenerative neurological diseases such as Huntington's disease and multiple sclerosis." The phrase "grievously and irremediably ill" would also appear to apply to chronic conditions such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS. People who have these diseases and conditions can have years and, sometimes, decades to live.

In response to this op ed, James Swanson, a man with a severely disabled father and friend, sent an angry letter filled with the rhetoric of disability bigotry, which the Herald’s editors entitled “Trapped alive”:  

Oregon Doctor Speaks Out: "Help with Depression, not Suicide"

http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Help+with+depression+suicide/5754424/story.html

I am a physician practicing medicine in Oregon where physician-assisted suicide is legal. I disagree with a writer's assessment that Oregon's law has worked well.

As one example, a few years ago, my patient, a 76 year-old man presented with a sore on his arm which turned out to be cancer. I referred him to an cancer specialist for evaluation and therapy. He was an avid hiker and as he went through his therapy, he became less able to do this activity and became depressed, which was documented in his chart.

He expressed a wish for assisted-suicide to the cancer specialist, but rather than taking the time and effort to address his depression, or to contact me as his primary physician and as someone who knew him, she asked me to be the "second opinion" for his suicide. I told her that I did not concur and that addressing his depression would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription. Unfortunately, two weeks later my patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor.

In most jurisdictions, suicidal ideation is interpreted as a cry for help. In Oregon, the only help my patient got was a lethal prescription intended to kill him.

Don't make Oregon's mistake.

Charles J. Bentz, MD
Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics Oregon Health & Sciences University Portland

Monday, November 28, 2011

Derek Miedema: My right to live trumps your right to die


Letter-writer Anneke Jansen thinks her two severely disabled sons would be better off dead (Bring An End To My Children’s ‘So-Called’ Life, Nov. 23). I give thanks every day that my disabled twin brother is alive.

Due to complications at birth, he is still in diapers and fed via a feeding tube even though he’s 39. He gets around in a wheelchair only when pushed by someone else. He can’t talk, and yet, he has taught me more about what it means to be human than anyone else I know.

Though the euthanasia question is framed in the language of choice and personal autonomy, the legalization of assisted suicide endangers those with no voice.

In Belgium, one-third of euthanasia deaths done by doctors occur without the explicit request of the person killed, according to a 2010 study of euthanasia in Belgium. Why? Some doctors decided for the patient that euthanasia was the best option. Though hard to believe, others thought the conversation about dying would be too stressful for the patient, so they killed them instead.


In Switzerland, a 23-year-old rugby player, paralyzed as a result of a training accident, was depressed. Who wouldn’t be? He was euthanized despite research that shows people with a spinal cord injury can and do create a satisfying quality of life with time and proper societal and family support.
Reports from the Netherlands indicate that 500 people died without their consent in 2005 alone. A woman in the advanced stages of dementia was recently euthanized there. A long-time supporter of euthanasia, doctors killed her even though she was incapable of deciding for or against the euthanasia decision at the time of her death.

"It's too dangerous to allow others to kill us"


By Brian Purdy - Calgary Herald - November 28, 2011

Suicide is legal, assisting it is not. The debate about the legalization of assisting suicide is in the news again, with another court case approaching the Supreme Court of Canada.

There are two points of view. The first is that every person has a right to end one's own life, so why should it not be legal to assist someone to do so? A person at the end of life can get help to end suffering and an unbearable dwindling away to an inevitable end. Why should a doctor or anyone else be made a criminal for an act of mercy?
The second view is that legalizing assisting a suicide is a dangerous slippery slope. Lord Acton, who famously said "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," also said something else about power. He said, "do not grant powers on the assumption they will not be abused."  Those who take the second view think that legalizing assisting suicide would lead to the likes of "Dr. Death" Jack Kevorkian not only assisting but encouraging people to commit suicide, often in highly inappropriate cases. It might lead to "suicide parlours" where depressed but otherwise healthy people could have a final lethal cocktail. Doctors might rid themselves of long term comatose patients without proper consent. Licia Corbella has pointed out in these pages that a very large number of patients in the Netherlands have been terminated by their doctors without any consent by the patient.

When my mother died years ago, she was old, and in a hospital bed for the last 18 months. Before that, for years, she hadn't been able to care for herself. No one could say she was productive in her last years. There was constant, expensive care.

After she died, I thought again about intervention to end the life of people like Mother, who dwindle into a prolonged dying. She had, after all, been declining for years. Should she have been put out of her misery?
Well, she wasn't miserable, as far as anyone knows. She had strokes and couldn't talk for the last two years, but didn't seem to be in pain.

Besides, who would make that decision to end Mother's life? Me?

Another family member? Hell no. We stood to profit by inheriting her estate. And, we could eliminate our burden of care. Either way, definite conflict of interest, no matter how good the intentions. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"We deserve the same suicide prevention as everybody else"


By Diane Coleman, Calgary Herald - November 23, 2011

Re: "Trapped alive," Letter, Nov. 21.

James G. Swanson's letter demonstrates the profound devaluation that too many feel toward those of us with severe physical disabilities. Swanson describes his father and a friend, disabled by an accident and ALS, respectively, as "trapped" and "condemned to a life in hell." Social messages that one is "better off dead than disabled" permeate society, including our families.

Swanson's solution to the so-called problem of disability is assisted suicide. Like most, he hasn't noticed the difference between suicide and assisted suicide. Apparently, he doesn't think it matters if someone's family views their life as devoid of quality. There's no sign of concern that we might feel that our existence is a burden to those closest to us. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities rightly opposes assisted suicide. A society that not only agrees with a disabled person's suicide, but guarantees that our suicide attempt results in death, is not treating us as equals. We deserve the same suicide prevention as everybody else, not a streamlined path to death.

Diane Coleman, Rochester, N.Y. Diane Coleman is the founder of the disability rights organization Not Dead Yet.

Glad to be Alive



By Alison Davis, Calgary Herald - November 23, 2011
Re: "No right to be killed; Doctor assisted suicide should not be allowed," Editorial, Nov. 20.

I was glad to see your excellent editorial stating the case against euthanasia. If [assisted suicide/euthanasia] had been available to me some years ago, I wouldn't now be writing to you. I have several severe disabling conditions. I use a wheelchair full time and a vent at night. I have severe pain, which even morphine can't control.

I wanted to die for more than 10 years, at a time when doctors thought my life expectancy was very short. I attempted suicide seriously several times, and was saved, only because friends found me in time and took me to the emergency room, where I was treated.

At first, I was angry with them for thwarting my wishes. Now, I'm eternally grateful. I want to live now, even though my pain is worse than it was when I wanted to die. What changed my mind is friends who refused to accept my view that my life had no value, and a group of very poor children, who loved me wonderfully and overwhelmingly. I found a reason to live in reaching out to help others, rather than turning the negativity on myself. If assisted suicide had been available then, no one would ever have known the doctors' prognosis was wrong, or that I'd be missing the best years of my life.

Alison Davis, Blandford Forum, U.K.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Doctor-assisted suicide is dangerous for us all

By Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald
November 19, 2011 

It's been a sickly couple of weeks for life. This past Monday, a B.C. Supreme Court case kicked off in which five people are seeking the right to choose to be killed by a physician. The very next day, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) released a report that urges the federal government to legalize assisted suicide in Canada. A summary of the End of Life Decision Making report states: "The evidence from years of experience and research where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are permitted does not support claims that decriminalization will result in vulnerable persons being subjected to abuse or a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia."

Wow. The RSC panel members must be really lousy researchers. At the very least, someone should teach them how to use Google. Why? Because on Nov. 9, it was announced that a woman with advanced Alzheimer's disease was euthanized in the Netherlands in March. In Holland, this was not even big news.  The horror stories in the Netherlands, where euthanasia was legalized in April 2002, but where it was practised for years prior to that without censure, go way back and prove that there is not just a slippery slope, but a veritable vertical skating rink. Two comprehensive studies, headed up by the Attorney General of the High Council of the Netherlands - Prof. J. Remmelink - reveal utterly shocking examples of abuse, or rather, murder.The first of these reports was released in September 1991. It found that in 1990 alone:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anti-Assisted Suicide Laws Have Served Him Well

http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Anti+suicide+laws+have+served+well/5731465/story.html

By John Coppard, Times Colonist, November 18, 2011

The editorial "Time to talk on right to die" asserts the time is now right to discuss this critically important topic (Nov. 16). 

I submit that the time passed a little over a year ago, when parliamentarians overwhelmingly rejected private member's bill C-384 seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia by a vote of 228 to 59.
John Coppard

Representatives of all parties recognized the dire risks to public safety of giving physicians the legal right to take their patients' lives, and our health-care system, and even friends and relatives, the legal right to steer ill people toward suicide. Our democratic representatives correctly saw this as open to abuse, and bad public policy.

The "Carter case" now ongoing in Vancouver is an attempt to end-run Parliament.

As a person who is "grievously and irremediably ill" with Grade IV brain cancer, I would be affected should this case succeed. Two and a half years after being given a 20 per cent chance of surviving five years, I am doing very well on a medication approved by Health Canada only a year ago, within a week of my cancer coming back.

Had I been given the legal choice of assisted suicide when I first received my terrible prognosis, or when my cancer returned, when I felt hopeless, I don't know what I would have done.

Now I'm doing very well, thanks to medical advancements that are coming faster than at any time in our history. Our anti-suicide laws protected me and gave me a chance for a long and happy life, just as they were intended to do.

John Coppard
Victoria

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Carter Case and Assisted Suicide: A Recipe for Elder Abuse and a Threat to Individual Rights

For shorter print versions of this article, click here and here.
For talking points, click here.

Will Johnston, MD
Margaret Dore, JD
Alex Schadenberg
November 1, 2011
"Those who believe that legal
assisted suicide . . . will assure their
autonomy and choice are naive."

William Reichel, MD
Montreal Gazette,
May 30, 2010[1]

A.  Introduction

Carter vs. Attorney General of Canada brings a constitutional challenge to Canada's laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia.[2]  Carter also seeks to 
legalize these practices as a medical treatment.[3]  Last year, a bill in Parliament seeking a similar result was overwhelmingly defeated.[4] 

This article's focus is physician-assisted suicide.

Legalizing this practice would be a recipe for elder abuse.  Legalization would also empower the Canadian health care system to the detriment of individual patient rights.  There would be other problems.

B.  Parliament Rejected Assisted Suicide

On April 21, 2010, Parliament defeated Bill C-384, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada.[5]  The vote was 228 to 59.[6]
C.  The Carter Case