One of the typical arguments pro-life advocates use against measures allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia centers on how the supposedly voluntary practices will lead to involuntary decisions to take the lives of patients, the elderly, or disabled.
In a new column about the recent decision by a court in Canada to strike down Canadian laws against assisted suicide, one attorney, Anne McTavish, says the lesson of the Netherlands should be instructive for any nation looking at legalizing the grisly practice. McTavish writes:
A 1973 court decision in the Netherlands started the process. Doctors and lawyers set strict guidelines to restrict when doctors could assist a terminally ill patient who wanted to commit suicide, and to protect a terminally ill patient who didn’t want to be euthanized (i.e., killed).
“In only 23 years, Dutch doctors have gone from being permitted to kill the terminally ill who ask for it, to killing the chronically ill who ask for it, to killing newborn babies in their cribs because they have birth defects, even though by definition they cannot ask for it. Dutch doctors also engage in involuntary euthanasia without significant legal consequence, even though such activity is officially prohibited,” writes Wesley J. Smith in Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder.
McTavish says regulating the practice of assisted suicide with supposed safeguards doesn’t prevent involuntary killing.
After the guidelines had been in place for 23 years, doctors were surveyed about people they euthanized. Incidentally, doctors later admitted they had under-reported euthanasia cases, so the following statistics are actually less than what really happened.
In 1990, 130,000 people died in the Netherlands: 2,300 people asked doctors to kill them; 400 asked doctors to provide them with the means to kill themselves; 8,100 died when doctors deliberately gave them an overdose of pain medication to kill them (for which 4,941 patients didn’t consent); 1,040 people died when doctors euthanized them without their knowledge or consent (72 per cent of those never having given any indication they would want their lives terminated).
That’s breathtaking in more than one way.
It’s not so much that nine per cent died at the hands of doctors, which is alarming in and of itself. What should raise our cries of outrage is that 4,941 people (four per cent) did not give their consent to being killed. A doctor who operates on someone without their consent can be successfully sued and made to pay huge dollars for having done so. The same should apply for killing a person without their consent.
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And it’s the 1,040 people (one percent) who were killed without their knowledge or consent and the 749 who never wanted to die early that should get us up in arms.
But whether Canadians or citizens of other nations, like Australia, where euthanasia proponents are attempting to legalize the practice, will be prompted to speak up for such patients is another question entirely.
The British Columbia Supreme Court issued an opinion declaring the law in Canada against assisted suicides unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling calling the law discriminatory in the case of Gloria Taylor, a British Columbia woman with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Taylor was one of five plaintiff’s seeking to strike the law and Judge Smith agree with her saying that, because suicide itself is not illegal, assisted suicides should not be illegal either. Judge Smith said the law contravenes Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees equality, because it denies the ability to disabled people to kill themselves in the same way an able-bodied person could.
Smith, ironically, also claimed the law violated the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter by claiming the assisted suicide ban could prompt people to take their lives while they’re physically able to do so.
Will Johnston of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition immediately critiqued the ruling and the group had sided with federal and provincial governments in opposing the case to strike the law. He urged Canadian officials to appeal the decision to the BC Court of Appeal and to seek an order stopping the decision from taking effect and nullifying the law until that appeal is heard.
“Most elder abuse is hidden from view – and if we can’t detect the abuse now, how are we going to do it when the stakes are raised? I have seen how easily influenced older people can be, and how inadequate are our national strategies against suicide. The present decision, which should be immediately appealed and corrected, is a huge step backwards, a blow to public safety, and would force changes in public policy which would do more harm than good,” he explained.
He added: “Today’s decision would point Canada towards the Oregon assisted suicide regime, which has become notorious for its erosion of medical standards and abuse of psychiatry to rubber-stamp suicide requests. The wish to avoid Oregon’s mistakes has been reflected in over 100 rejections of assisted suicide by legislatures in North America and by medical associations around the world.”