REALity August, 2018 Ottawa, ON
When the assisted suicide law was passed by Parliament in 2016, it was explained to us that it would only be used in rare cases when required to relieve the unbearable suffering of the terminally ill.
Health Canada issued an interim report in June, 2018 which indicates that the number of deaths by lethal drug injection has increased by 29.3% in the second half of 2017, compared to the assisted deaths in the first half of 2017. This indicates that the application of the law has widened at an alarming rate. It is obviously far more than the lives of “rare” cases being terminated. According to this report, 3,714 Canadians have received assisted suicide in the past two years – 1525 occurring in the last six months of 2017. It also reveals that 90% of patients who sought assisted suicide obtained it, down from 24% who were refused in the first half of last year. The report further reveals that 40.4% of the physician assisted suicides occurred in a hospital setting, while 43.3% occurred in the patient’s home. There were no cases of self-administered assisted deaths.
What we now know is that assisted suicide is rapidly becoming normalized. We also know that supporters of assisted suicide are not content with the present law which limits it to cases of intolerable suffering and imminent death, but are now pressuring to extend assisted suicide for other reasons, such as for those who are mentally ill and children under 18. Also, we now know that although assisted suicide was supposed to be an option, it is now in some cases, the only option available. Quebec Medical College President, Dr. Charles Bernard, recently published a letter to the Quebec Health Minister stating that palliative care services are being denied patients because of the redirection of already scarce health resources from palliative care to physician assisted suicide, which is being prioritized by health institutions.
In British Columbia, the Fraser Valley Health Authority, a large BC hospital system, has ordered those palliative care hospices that receive 50% or more of their funding from tax dollars, to provide the option of physician assisted suicide to patients. This torpedoes the 40-year struggle of palliative care institutions trying to convince often fearful patients that palliative care is not about hastening death. Palliative care hospices should not be bullied into providing assisted suicide, yet this is occurring just two years after the assisted suicide law was passed.
It has become clear that assisted suicide is fast becoming the only option available. For example, a young man who was stuck in a London, Ontario hospital for two years because of an incurable neurological disease, was refused assisted home care of his choosing. Instead, he was offered medically assisted death. Refusing the death option, the young man was then threatened with a $1,800 per day hospital bill. He has now commenced a legal action against the federal and provincial governments for failing to provide him with proper health care of his own choosing. Where is his autonomy and dignity?
The effect of all this is that patients are being frightened away from palliative care, leaving the “choice” of physician assisted suicide as their only real option.
Legislation to Provide Palliative Care
Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton) brought forward a private member’s bill in December 2017, which was adopted unanimously by both the House of Commons and the Senate. It was supposed to bind the Liberal government to put in place a framework for palliative care by December, 2018.
Curiously, it took six months for the Health Minister to open a nation-wide consultation on this legislation. It is unknown whether she has even consulted with her provincial colleagues.
It is a concern too that the word “palliative” was mysteriously absent from the 2018 federal budget. The Minister of Health, however, claims that the federal government is committed to giving the provinces $6 billion over ten years for home care and palliative care. Why then hasn’t this been acted on?
We know that physicians in both the US and Canada are now writing prescriptions for lethal drugs instead of encouraging patients to seek a second opinion for potentially treatable diseases. What they are providing is a heartless endorsement of hopelessness and despair using the language of “autonomy”. They are killing the person, not their pain and suffering. A new industry is being created that allows physicians, who do not offer any medical care or treatment, to simply carry out the assisted suicide. These physicians have a “messiah complex” since they think that they are in a position to decide whether a patient should continue living. They apply an elastic interpretation of the current physician assisted suicide legislation. Where is the “autonomy” of patients that this legislation was supposed to provide? Patient dignity and autonomy are predictably, quickly receding from the Canadian scene.