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.

Link to the full article

Will Johnston - speech euthanasia on euthanasia Bill C-14 - Victoria BC - May 12, 2016

Will Johnston

Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston , Chair, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC

I have a dream, and in that dream the Parliament of Canada debates far into the night to perfect a new law. The new Bill has the support of the majority of our elected representatives. It strives to get just the right balance between Federal and Provincial powers over matters of life and death. In my dream hundreds of Canadians testify before Committees and Panels and town hall meetings. They all want a better Canada. In my dream our Parliament is working against a deadline to get a law into place which honors the highest aspirations of our civilization. Finally the law has passed through the Senate and passed through Parliament and one day, let’s imagine June 6 of the year in my dream, the law goes into force.

What a law! What an achievement, worth every one of those late nights of intense Parliamentary debate and Special Joint Committees and Provincial Territorial Expert Panels and External Panels and town hall meetings and letters and papers and open-line radio shows and documentaries. 

In my dream the new law says that anyone in severe pain anywhere in Canada is treated like a cardiac arrest, an emergency which activates a team of specially trained people. Anyone who is depressed and suicidal, anywhere in Canada, is treated like a house on fire, with immediate attention from another team of specially but of course differently trained people. People who are trying to live independently with major disabilities are funded and equipped like a Canadian Olympic team should be. Families with children with disabilities are treated like royalty. Having a disability or having a family member with a disability guarantees you will be kept far above the poverty line, never below that line and forgotten in the economic ditch. A report of possible elder abuse is by law to be treated like an Amber Alert, and abusers exposed to the clear light of emergency inquiry. 

What a dream. When the real Canada wakes up on June 6th, it will be to a new law far removed from my dream. Instead, our great nation labored and brought forth – what?- a legal excuse to protect a doctor or nurse from a murder charge as long as they are under the opinion that you fit the right criteria before your death is inflicted. The law will let someone else sign you up, unlimited doctor shopping to find two of them to agree you are better off dead, no independent objective review before the planned death, no required notification of family members, no need for you to be actually dying, no need to be offered alternatives to suicide, no guarantee the death certificate will state the true cause of inflicted death, no requirement for a pain control assessment, no ban on health care workers being intimidated to cooperate.

The new law is careful to protect doctors. Mind you, doctors are not protected in order to use their consciences, they are protected while making mistakes causing wrongful death. 

The polls show that people can imagine choosing the time of their own deaths. People expect that when that time comes , they will be in control. They think they have been given a new right, but instead they have lost the protections built into the old law. Someone will have control, all right, just maybe not always you.

Link to the full article

EPC needs you to contact Members of Parliament

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be hearing interventions concerning Bill C-14, the bill that will legalize and “regulate” euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) will be presenting to the committee next week. We will be represented by: Amy Hasbrouck (EPC – VP), Hugh Scher (EPC – Legal Counsel) and Dr Will Johnston (Chair of EPC – BC). 

Several MP's have said that they are receiving more communication from members of the euthanasia lobby than from our supporters. 

EPC needs you to contact members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with your concerns about Bill C-14.

Resources for your communicating with committee members:

Link to the article on Bill C-14 by Alex Schadenberg.
Link to the article on Bill C-14 by the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia.
Link to the article on Bill C-14 by Dr Will Johnston (EPC - BC).
Link to the article on Bill C-14 by Charles Lewis.
Link to the article on Bill C-14 by Andrew Coyne.
Link to the article on Bill C-14 by Amy Hasbrouck (Toujours Vivant - Not Dead Yet).

Committee Chair: Anthony Housefather (Lib) - Anthony.Housefather@parl.gc.ca
Committee Vice Chair: Ted Falk (CPC) - Ted.Falk@parl.gc.ca
Committee Vice Chair: Murray Rankin (NDP) - Murray.Rankin@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Chris Bittle (Lib) - Chris.Bittle@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Michael Cooper (CPC) - Michael.Cooper@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Colin Fraser (Lib) - Colin.Fraser@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Ahmed Hussen (Lib) - Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Iqra Khalid (Lib) - Iqra.Khalid@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Ron McKinnon (Lib) - Ron.McKinnon@parl.gc.ca
Committee Member: Hon. Rob Nicholson (CPC) - rob.nicholson@parl.gc.ca

EPC also encourages you to send letters to your Members of Parliament. Link to contact your Member of Parliament.

You can mail letters to Members of Parliament (Postage Free) by sending letters to:

(Name) Member of Parliament
House of Commons
Ottawa Ontario K1A 0A6

The Deadly problems with euthanasia Bill C-14

This article was written by Dr Will Johnston and published in the Huffington Post on April 22, 2016.

Dr Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston is the Chair of EPC - BC.

It is not surprising that many Canadians are concerned about the dangers of the new assisted suicide and euthanasia bill, C-14.

What is really not credible is how the word-benders who used the Charter "right to life" to legalize the intentional suicide or killing of some patients are now protesting that they have been cheated of total victory. While they were in court, they said that all they wanted was for competent consenting adults who were suffering terribly at the end of life to be able to have a doctor kill them, with no criminal consequences for anyone.

Now they are hopping mad that non-adults and those who are mentally incompetent, those unable to consent, those whose suffering is purely psychological, and those with years to live just might be excluded. They don't have to worry. The same semantic ju-jitsu which delivered the Carter decision to them will have no problem convincing the courts to invite whoever else to the death party.

Link to the full article

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition: the design of the euthanasia law will either discourage or enable abuse

Media Release
April 14, 2016

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) opposes giving anyone, the power in law, to cause the death of another person. We oppose any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

In all jurisdictions where assisted death is legal, the laws lack effective oversight stated Alex Schadenberg, EPC executive director. Even the need for consent from the patient may often be ignored.

A study concerning assisted deaths in Belgium published in the NEJM (March 2015) found that more than 1000 deaths were intentionally hastened without request in the Flanders region of Belgium in 2013. The same study determined that many assisted deaths were not reported.

EPC legal counsel, Hugh Scher, urges the government to ensure effective oversight of the law. 

Prior approval by the court or an expert panel is essential to any assisted suicide regime that Parliament introduces. It is the only way to ensure compliance with legislative criteria established to identify vulnerability and prevent abuse of the law before people are put to death.

EPC VP Amy Hasbrouck,  a lawyer and disability leader, works in coalition with many groups.

Effective oversight based on a court approved or expert panel is endorsed by multiple stakeholders across the country including from the disability community, the medical community and legal experts.

Dr. Will Johnston, EPC – BC Chair stated that Euthanasia is not a form of health care. 

Defining euthanasia as health care would mean that lethal injections become a form of medical treatment. Not only is this an Orwellian concept, but may leave Canadians without a safe space within the healthcare system.

Dr Johnston continued: 

Forcing doctors to participate in killing their patients is paternalistic. To require doctors to refer patients to a doctor who will lethally inject them undermines conscience rights and my oath that I will “Do No Harm.”

EPC urges the government to protect people at the most vulnerable time of life.

For more information contact: 

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director (London) 519-851-1434, info@epcc.ca
Hugh Scher, EPC Legal Counsel (Toronto) 416-816-6115, hugh@sdlaw.ca
Dr Will Johnston, Chair EPC – BC (Vancouver) 604-220-2042, willjohnston@shaw.ca
Amy Hasbrouck, EPC – VP (Montréal) 450-921-3057, tigrlily@gmail.com

Joint Parliamentary Committee on Assisted Suicide Refuses to hear from leading experts on the need for effective oversight to protect Canadians

TORONTO, Feb. 3, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE

Hugh Scher

Hugh Scher

Fundamental to keeping Canadians safe in the operation of a state-sanctioned assisted dying regime is the need for rigorous before the fact oversight by an independent judge or tribunal stated Hugh Scher, Toronto constitutional lawyer and disability rights advocate. Scher stated:

Before the fact judicial oversight is essential to any assisted suicide regime that Parliament may seek to introduce. It is the only way to ensure compliance with legislative criteria established to identify vulnerability and prevent abuse before people are put to death.

EPC VP Amy Hasbrouch stated that:

This position is endorsed by multiple stakeholders across the country including from the disability community, the medical community and legal experts.

In all jurisdictions where assisted death is legal, the laws lack effective oversight. Consequently, safeguards, including the need for consent from the patient are routinely ignored.

A study published in the NEJM (March 19, 2015) found that 1.7% of all deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium in 2013 were assisted without request. Therefore more than 1000 deaths were intentionally hastened without request. The same study determined that nearly half of the assisted deaths went unreported states Alex Schadenberg, EPC executive director.

Dr. Will Johnston states that adoption of a Belgian-style euthanasia regime in Canada, such as has been adopted in Quebec, without effective before the fact judicial oversight to ensure compliance with legislative requirements would be a recipe for disaster that is certain to put Canadians at risk.

Euthanasia is not a form of health care. Defining euthanasia as health care would mean that lethal injections become a form of medical treatment. Not only is this an Orwellian concept, but it is one that would certainly leave Canadians without a safe space within the healthcare system, states Dr. Johnston, Chair of EPC – British Columbia.

Despite more than 15 years of extensive experience with the legal, medical and practical challenges associated with assisted suicide practices in other jurisdictions, the Joint Parliamentary Committee has deliberately refused to hear from leading constitutional, medical and sociological experts, who have previously advocated against the adoption of euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada because of the risks that it poses to all Canadians and our healthcare system.

Failure to hear particularly from those who are experts who raise concerns about euthanasia practices in other jurisdictions represents a fatal flaw to the committee's deliberations and an intentional attempt to silence those with differing viewpoints while embracing those who promote unbridled euthanasia. Such an approach runs completely contrary to the Government's stated objective of conducting a comprehensive consultation with all relevant stakeholders in order to implement a safe and measured response to the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Supreme Court's conclusion that assisted suicide could be legalized safely in Canada is predicated on the notion of strong federal regulation. The court concluded that a legislative response would require a "carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards." It was only the possibility of crafting a scheme with such effective oversight and safeguards that led the court to reject the argument that weakening the prohibitions will inevitably lead to the casual termination of life including the lives of individuals who do not wish to die, notes Scher. 

The Committee's exclusion and refusal to hear from leading national experts on the subject call into question its motives and actions and greatly undermines the conclusions it may draw as a consequence of its limited and self-selected inquiry.

For more information contact: 
Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director (London) 519-851-1434, info@epcc.ca
Hugh Scher, EPC Legal Counsel (Toronto) 416-816-6115, hugh@sdlaw.ca
Dr Will Johnston, Chair EPC – BC (Vancouver): 604-220-2042, willjohnston@shaw.ca
Amy Hasbrouck, EPC – VP (Montréal): 450-921-3057, tigrlily@gmail.com

Montreal Euthanasia Symposium: Theory and Reality about Euthanasia

Media Release - October 30, 2015

The Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, the Living with Dignity network and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) are coming together for a one day conference on Saturday October 31, 2015 at the Best Western Ville Marie hotel in Montréal, to discuss our common concerns and directions.

The Quebec euthanasia experiment is scheduled to begin on December 10. The vast majorityof physicians around the world have always rejected euthanasia, above all because it is a public safety hazard: it can drive people to throw away years of their lives and provide caregivers and heirs with enormous power. Although it gives an illusion of control, the option of euthanasia will undoubtedly erode medical diligence and creativity in the medical care of people both chronically disabled and acutely disabled by illness.  

Most patients fear suffering at the end of life. This has always been the case. But we must find a less dangerous option than the constant availability of “death on demand” to address these fears. In extreme cases, i.e. for the small minority of patients for whom other options are not completely effective, palliative sedation can answer all symptom control problems.

Quebec has the only law in the world which attempts to coerce doctors to refer patients for euthanasia. Such pointless authoritarianism, of which we already had a taste in September, is a dangerous precedent which must be formally rejected.   

From a logistical point of view patients do not need help from their treating physician to access euthanasia: the government could easily set up a system of self-referral to voluntarily licensed doctors who are willing to practice euthanasia. This would avoid trampling on the professional judgment and conscience of the rest of the medical profession. 

We reject the concept that euthanasia is any kind of health care. We reject bullying physicians into referring their patients for death. And we reject the concept that intentional death is a solution to human distress.

Dr Catherine Ferrier – President, Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia (514) 623-5737
Dr Will Johnston – Chair, EPC - BC (604) 220-2042
Dr Margaret Cottle – Vice President, EPC (604) 222-0288
Dr Marc Beauchamp – President, Living with Dignity Network.
Alex Schadenberg - Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (519) 851-1434