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:

- 1,031 people were killed by their physicians without the patient's request or consent.

Of those 1,031 people:

- 14 per cent were found to be fully competent;

- 72 per cent had NEVER expressed that they would want their lives ended.

A similar report was conducted in 1995 in Holland and 950 people were killed by their physicians without their consent.

When euthanasia began being practised in the Netherlands, it was intended only for elderly, terminally ill patients who could give informed consent. Since then, things have "progressed" in Holland. Depressed teenagers over the age of 16 can seek to have their lives ended without parental consent. And even babies born with mild cases of spina bifida were killed by their physicians sometimes without parental consent. As a result of that hair-raising reality, the Netherlands brought in what is called The Groningen Protocol of 2004. (The RSC should Google that.) The protocol, written by Eduard Verhagen, the medical director of the department of pediatrics at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, contains guidelines under which physicians can perform "active ending of life on infants" without having to fear legal prosecution.

Need more examples that are a little more recent and closer to home? In 2008, Barbara Wagner, then 64, of Springfield, Ore. - where [assisted suicide] has been legal since 199[7] - was sent a letter by the state health insurance plan that told her it would not pay for her potentially life-saving chemotherapy drugs to help fight her lung cancer, but they would pay for her physician to kill her.

Her answer: "I told them, I said, 'Who do you guys think you are?' You know, to say that you'll pay for my dying, but you won't pay to help me possibly live longer?'"

Sadly, that's is not an isolated case. It was pretty much a form letter. The same thing happened to Randy Stroup from Oregon. He wanted medical care to help him live, but he was offered death by physician instead. Neither of these patients considered that option "compassionate" - one of the euphemisms used by right-to-die activists.

In the Netherlands, there have been public statements where elderly people who seek medical care are called "selfish." Many people in Holland, not just the elderly, have felt compelled to carry around "Do not kill me cards" in their wallets should they be in an accident. And the royal society says there's no evidence of a slippery slope? They must think climbing Mount Everest is akin to a walk in the park.

I could go on and on with shocking recent examples from other countries as well. So, it's safe to say that the RSC's "expert research" has been completely discredited and its recommendations should be killed.

Indeed, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada predicted, that the royal society would come out with this position on this vital issue because of the one-sided nature of the six "experts" chosen to be on the panel.

"I wrote that the royal society's report would be a pro-euthanasia propaganda piece two years ago," said Schadenberg, who was reached in Ottawa on Thursday, where he attended a parliamentary committee on how to improve palliative care, so that dying people need not suffer.

Having said all this, it's impossible not to feel sympathy for people like Gloria Taylor, the 63-year-old Kelowna, B.C., woman who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease and who is seeking to be allowed to be killed by her doctor at a time of her choice in the B.C. Supreme Court case.

But history shows us that for many people who live where euthanasia is legal, they are often killed against their will. What about their "choice?" They will never be able to make another choice ever again.

Canada's courts and legislators have ruled on this issue repeatedly. In the Sue Rodriguez decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1993 that the prohibition against assisted suicide does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 1995, the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide recommended that euthanasia remain a criminal offence.

On April 21, 2010, Parliament overwhelmingly defeated Bill C-384 - which sought to legalize physicianassisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada, by a vote of 228 to 59.

B.C.'s Supreme Court must take heed of the ample evidence of harm to individuals and society and the thoughtful and wise rulings of our parliamentarians and our highest court. It's past time to let this issue die.

Licia Corbella is a columnist and the editorial page editor.