Canada Cancer Patients Want Assisted Suicide Only if Pain Uncontrolled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 6, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canada Cancer Patients Want Assisted Suicide Only if Pain Uncontrolled Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 6
, 2007

Toronto, Canada ( — A new survey of cancer patients in Canada finds that a majority want assisted suicide to be legal in the nation and that a good percentage of those polled would take advantage of such a law to kill themselves. The survey comes less than a week after assisted suicide crusader Jack Kevorkian was released from prison.

Published in the journal Health Psychology, the survey included 379 patients who currently receive palliative care for cancer.

The journal interviewed the patients and found that 63 percent want the grisly practice legalized in Canada.

Another 40 percent said they would consider committing suicide under such a law if their situation deteriorated to a "worst case scenario."

According to the Canadian Press, the poll found that another 10 percent indicated they would have already availed themselves of an assisted suicide law had it been available to them.

Most of the patients saying they would commit suicide under a law say they would do so because they have uncontrolled pain but the study found that when appropriate pain relief was given the patients were no longer interested in assisted suicide.

Dr. Joseph Ayoub, an oncologist who also teaches medical ethics at the University of Montreal, says assisted suicide should remain illegal because it denies respect for human life.
"Assisted suicide does not honor human dignity," he said. "Especially now in the modern era of medicine when there are ways to heal patients physically and psychologically."

"First you start with patients with severe disease like cancer at the end of their life, then you come to disabled people, then you come to handicapped children and old people in homes," he told the Winnipeg newspaper last year. "It could become like you are selecting people to terminate their lives."

Last year, disability activist Mark Pickup met with members of Parliament for a luncheon and told them that any attempt to legalize euthanasia represents blatant discrimination against disabled people.

Pickup, who lives with multiple sclerosis, said few people talk about pursuing assisted suicide for people without disabilities or terminal diseases.

"Only when we talk about disability, do we talk about the right for self-determination," he told 30 people representing the government, including a dozen MPs and staff for others.

Polling data has shown that support for assisted suicide in Canada is diminishing.

Pollara, a Canadian polling firm, conducted a survey in August 2003 that found that 49 percent of Canadians backed assisted suicide while 37 percent opposed it.

That’s down from a 1997 poll taken shortly after Robert Latimer was sentenced for killing his disabled 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, found 70 percent of Canadians said assisted suicide was allowable.

Canada law currently provides for a maximum of 14 years in prison under Section 241 of the Criminal Code for cases of assisted suicide. Euthanasia, when someone causes the death of a patient without consent, counts as murder under the country’s law.