In an article published in the World Medical Journal, three physicians who specialize in palliative or end-of-life care are trying to raise the alarm about the growing use of euthanasia in Canada.
Currently, euthanasia makes up 2% of all deaths in Canada and will likely hit 3% soon. That’s a staggering rise for a practice that was only legalized in 2016. For physicians Leonie Herx, Margaret Cottle and John F. Scott, who all serve as assistant/associate professors for the Division of Palliative Medicine/Care at their respective universities throughout Canada, this is a grave concern. Especially as certain aspects of the medical community look to expand euthanasia access to include mental and chronic illnesses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, palliative care “is specialized medical care that focuses on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for both patients and their families.”
It’s a practice that many of these physicians are passionate about, but they’re increasingly unable to offer this care as the government has put more emphasis on euthanasia as a “treatment” for terminal conditions and a growing list of other medical problems.
In the article, the authors note that “in September 2019, a Quebec Superior Court ruling on the Truchon case struck down a central euthanasia criterion for ‘reasonably foreseeable natural death,’ which may soon open up euthanasia to those with chronic conditions, disabilities and mental health issues as a primary diagnosis.” This means that soon, “euthanasia in Canada will almost certainly be open to any person who feels their suffering cannot be addressed except through intentional termination of life.”
Mental health professionals are extremely concerned since their patients “could possibly have euthanasia performed almost immediately, whereas the wait time can be years for specialized, life-saving psychiatric interventions and care.”
In Canada, patients interested in euthanasia are supposed to have a 10-day waiting period or a reflection time to consider the decision, but physicians don’t honor that time and expedite the waiting period. According to one study, 26% of euthanasia deaths in Ontario had their wait periods expedited. In Quebec, of the close to 60% who had their reflection time waived, 48% of those waivers were given without meeting the “criminal code criteria for removal and 26% had no documented reason for waiving the reflection period.”
Canada is also unique in that it allows “non-patient-initiated discussion of organ donation for those approved for euthanasia.” Not even the Netherlands and Belgium, pioneers in euthanasia, allow this practice. As a result of the increasing interest in organ harvesting from euthanasia patients, doctors are altering the procedure by doing live donations or adding drugs like potassium chloride “to the existing regimen which will cause rapid cessation of cardiac activity and reduce the potential for ischemic damage to the organs that will be transplanted.”
Other problems include the lack of regulations and oversight regarding the assessors, the use of telemedicine for euthanasia assessments, potential for coercion of patients, inability to address competency issues and general weakening of safeguard mechanisms.
Of course, one of the biggest problems is that the focus on euthanasia means that patients often don’t get information on palliative care until it is too late. Patients with terminal conditions often struggle with pain due to their condition and feeling like they are a burden to their family members.
“Patients, loved ones, clinicians and even society in general are deeply enriched when palliative teams use our expertise to show compassion throughout excellent clinical care in an on-going, committed relationship with each patient, no matter how difficult the circumstances or how complicated the issues. Suffering—pain, fear, loss of control, sense of burden—is not solved by hastened death, but by this excellent care, delivered in a community and a society that honors and protects our most vulnerable citizens at the most difficult times in their lives.”
This type of loving, life-honoring care doesn’t happen when patients are encouraged to seek death as a response to their suffering. And, most disturbingly of all, Canada has already seen some financial “savings” due to the increased emphasis of euthanasia.
What’s happening in Canada should be a warning to the world about what can happen when a government emphasizes death over life for its citizens with terminal, chronic and mental illnesses.