Assisted suicide is frequently criticized for the shadow it casts over patients, and for potentially shaming them into taking their lives against their will. New evidence shows that distress from assisted suicide is not just limited to the patient but the doctor, too.
Some of the issues concern making the grave decisions about who does and does not qualify for the life-destroying procedure. Canada’s National Post reports there are some patients who believe they can now get “euthanasia on demand” because of a 2015 ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court that struck down a ban on assisted suicide. Currently, Canadian legislators are working on new laws to regulate assisted suicide.
The biggest issues of all, however, come in cases of patients who do not quite meet the qualifications for assisted suicide. Dr. Eugene Bereza, director of applied ethics at McGill University Health Center, says: “The tough cases fall in the grey zones. People’s lives don’t fit neatly into boxes and checklists.”
This is where things can become very difficult for doctors. Current laws in provinces that allow assisted suicide require that two doctors agree to a patient’s request to be euthanized. Beyond the pressure it could push on doctors, the possibility of assisted suicide has put doctors in difficult situations already.
In Quebec, where it is currently legal, there was a man who stopped eating in February in order to qualify for an assisted suicide, according to the report. His case was a grey area for some doctors.
Bereza argues that support structures are needed for doctors to get through the ethical issues associated with assisted suicide. While doctors deal with death every day, he views the kind of death directly inflicted on a patient as unique.
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Normand Laberge, executive director of the Quebec Medical Association, tells the news outlet that doctors who participate in assisted suicides may experience psychological distress akin to that of police officers involved in shootings.
He discusses the presence of assisted suicide in Quebec further: “We’re hearing it changes the relationship; it changes how you interact with the care team after making such a decision. There’s that effect that I think we need to start to manage.”
Pro-life and other groups believe there are bigger problems with assisted suicide, namely that it devalues human lives.