Will Johnston: The case against physician-assisted dying

This article was published by the CanadianHealthcareNetwork.ca on June 1, 2016

Discussed: The 'wedge' cases, the language of the debate, the moral culpability of the doctor, and the question of pure autonomy
Dr Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston

By Tristan Bronca.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition was officially founded in 1998 in response to rising public support for physician-assisted dying. It’s made up of about 2,000 donors—both members and organizations—who began to come together in about 1993 during the Sue Rodriguez case. One of those members is Dr. Will Johnston.

Now the chair of the B.C. chapter of the coalition, the family physician took a strong stance against euthanasia about 22 years ago, when he began writing about it and speaking to high school students and church groups. He also testified opposite euthanasia advocates in the Carter case, which led to the legalization of medically assisted death in Canada. Dr. Johnston spoke with the Medical Post about his concerns with the legislation recently passed through the house of commons, the laws around the world, and why he feels Canada is about to make a dangerous mistake.

Q: Explain the impetus for a coalition of bodies who are opposed to physician-assisted dying.

The bodies that are involved in the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition might not agree on any other issue but they share in common a sense of the huge societal mistake that is being made in euthanasia and assisted suicide. We realize that there is some strength in numbers. Obviously not enough strength to stop the freight train that ended with the Supreme Court being unanimous in its decision—which I think is a troubling sign of the shallowness of the Supreme Court’s reasoning—but nonetheless more power than we would have as individual activists.

Q: Which elements of the proposed federal legislation do you personally find most troubling?

The legislation doesn’t yet allow the euthanasia of children, psychiatric patients, or mentally incapable patients long after they consent, but the preamble to the legislation promises to explore those areas further, which is deeply troubling.

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