Margaret Somerville - What the top court left out in assisted suicide decision

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, wrote an insightful article titled - What the top court left out in judgement on assisted suicide - that was published in the Globe and Mail on October 27.

In her article, Somerville comments on the Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide decision:

A central question in legalizing physician-assisted suicide is where the balance between respecting individual rights to autonomy and protection of the “common good” (protection of others and society, including its important values) should be struck. In this case, there was almost no such balancing. 
Rather, both the trial court and the Supreme Court focused almost exclusively on the rights of individual persons, so that the factual findings and legal reasoning were intensely individualistically based. 
Both courts adopted a narrow definition of Parliament’s purpose in prohibiting assisted suicide (namely, that it was to protect a vulnerable person in moments of weakness from acting on suicidal ideation) and concluded that an absolute prohibition was not needed to achieve this. Indeed, the courts accepted the evidence of plaintiff Gloria Taylor, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, that she did not need this protection as showing that she and people like her did not – that is, they were “not vulnerable.”

Then Somerville asks - But was the court correct in its assessment of vulnerability? She explains:
 

Prof. Henk ten Have, a physician-ethicist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, recently published a paper proposing that vulnerability is an innate human characteristic that we all experience throughout our lives, because it “comes from the social dimension of human existence.” In short, we are not free-floating autonomous atoms.

Somerville explains:

Vulnerability is linked to dependence on others. We are all interdependent, which means we are all vulnerable. This is not necessarily bad, as we might at first assume when we hear the word “vulnerable.” 

Somerville then concludes that Supreme Court missed the common good or the importance of people caring for one another.

Link to the full article

Euthanasia Symposium 2015

The Euthanasia Symposium 2015 is in Montreal at the Best Western - Ville Marie Hotel and Suites on October 31, 2015 from 9 am to 5 pm.

Book your room at the hotel for $119 single or $149 double by calling: 1-800-361-7791.

The Euthanasia Symposium 2015 is an event of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia and the Living with Dignity.

Registration is only $50 and includes lunch and coffee breaks.

Speakers include:

  • Dr Balfour Mount: The father of palliative care in North America.
  • Dr Margaret Somerville: She will be speaking from her new book: Bird on an ethical wire.
  • Dr Margaret Cottle: Palliative care physician and Vice President of EPC.
  • Dr Will Johnston: Family Physician and Chair of EPC - BC.
  • Dr Patrick Vinay: Former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal.
  • Dr Catherine Ferrier: Geriatrician, President - Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia.
  • Amy Hasbrouck: Lawyer and Director of Toujours Vivant - Not Dead Yet Canada.
  • Nic Steenhout: Former Director of Living with Dignity Québec.
  • Albertos Polizogopoulos: Lawyer, who will be speaking on Physicians Conscience Rights.
  • Alex Schadenberg: Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
  • Hugh Scher: Legal Counsel - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
  • Jen Romnes: Will be sharing her story (book) about caring for her mother.

Register by contacting the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition at: 1-877-439-3348 or info@epcc.ca

Is physician-assisted death in anyone’s best interest? NO

This article was published in the Canadian Family Physician (April 2015) with an article supporting Physician-Assisted Death.

By Dr Edward (Ted) St Godard 

The issue of physician-assisted death is complex and emotional, and we must not allow truth to become a casualty. Medical professionals and laypersons alike struggle to understand distinctions between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and many more fail to distinguish either act from simple refusal or authorized withdrawal of treatment.1 We must demand and demonstrate a courageous and respectful clarity.

The expression physician-assisted death is what is kindly known as a euphemism. Euphemism is defined as “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.”2 Writing recently in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik noted:

[E]uphemism is a moral problem, not a cognitive one. When Dick Cheney calls torture “enhanced interrogation,” it doesn’t make us understand torture in a different way; it’s just a means for those who know they’re doing something wrong to find a phrase that doesn’t immediately acknowledge the wrongdoing.3

The substitution of physician-assisted death, or the ubiquitous medical aid in dying (something I provide daily), for the more accurate if somehow distasteful euthanasia (itself a euphemism) or physician-assisted suicide, represents at best a misplaced attempt at decorum or delicacy,4 and often a deliberate obfuscation. That our journal, like the Canadian Medical Association, has stooped to using this language is regrettable and, frankly, embarrassing. It is not just semantics.

Link to the full article

Doctor Death Nightmare

Published on March 24.

By Deborah Rankin

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

law professor at McGill University says that a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning the ban on assisted-suicide and euthanasia is a "nightmare" and "full of errors". Margaret Somerville, the Founding Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill made these remarks recently to a rapt audience at a public forum organized by the Newman Centre for Catholic students and faculty.

She said that the SCC decision goes farther than simply striking down the ban against aiding someone to commit suicide, permitting euthanasia by physicians in certain circumstances, while cautioning that the ruling is unclear in this regard.

In physician assisted-suicide the doctor prescribes drugs that the patient takes, whereas in euthanasia the doctor administers a lethal injection - in either scenario, ostensibly at the patient's request. However, in jurisdictions where assisted-suicide has been legalized, there are multiple examples of abuse with people being euthanized without their consent.

This is especially true in the case of children and incompetent adults who can't give informed-consent: for example, the Groningen Protocol of the Netherlands permits so-called "voluntary euthanasia" of babies at the parents' request. Pro-euthanasia advocates refer to this gruesome practice as "post-birth abortion" while opponents say that it is really a form of "closet eugenics" - if the child is born with congenital defects the parents can request euthanasia on the pretext of preventing the child from suffering.

Link to the full article

Barbara Kay: Euthanasia is killing by doctors

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Barbara Kay

Barbara Kay

The National Post published an excellent article by Barbara Kay, one of Canada's most respected columnists, titled: Beware of euthanasia's friendly face.

Kay's article accomplishes two tasks: it properly defines the language and purpose of Bill 52, the Québec euthanasia bill that passed last June, and she reports on her experience at a dinner organized by the Physicians for Social Justice opposing Québec's euthanasia law, that was held in Montréal.

Kay points out that the Québec euthanasia law, that is scheduled to come into effect in December 2015, legalizes euthanasia and not assisted suicide.

Link to the full article

Margaret Somerville: Should Canada permit assisted suicide

Assisted suicide leads to normalization of euthanasia, harms the vulnerable and degrades our respect for the value of human life.

By Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

Euthanasia and assisted suicide go beyond personal ethics to involve social ethics. Advocates frequently resort to a personal story, often that of a suffering relative, to explain their stance. They avoid asking the question, “What does it say about a society that deals with the big problems of human existence by legalizing the ‘quick fix’ of inflicting death?” Such a society is abandoning the great philosophic traditions of Western civilization. Everything now depends only on majority opinion and technological capacity.

Moreover, euthanasia differentially implicates the most vulnerable members of a society. We can’t judge the ethical tone of a society by how it treats its strongest, most privileged, most powerful members, but by how it treats its weakest, most vulnerable and most in need.

Link to the full article

There’s no “mushy middle” on euthanasia

By Margaret Somerville

   Margaret Somerville

   Margaret Somerville

Many know the saying “You have to fish or cut bait”. Many fewer know the law’s equivalent, “You can’t approbate and reprobate”. But the Canadian Medical Association’s recent dealing with their 2007 Policy on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide makes it seem they are unaware of the warning and wisdom these axioms communicate.

That CMA policy unambiguously declares: "Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide."  Despite that, a motion passed at the recent CMA General Council meeting, which ostensibly was meant only to ensure freedom of conscience, has allowed the CMA to make the following statement in its intervener factum in the upcoming appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case.

Link to the article