Dr Brad Burke: Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau

April 4, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

To the Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing to you out of deep concern for the legislation that will soon be drafted regarding physician assisted suicide. I am so concerned, that I produced videos on the websites, DearGodLetter.ca and CherDieuLettre.ca, in the hope that more Canadians would be informed about the potential ramifications of such legislation.

As a medical doctor, there are many arguments I could provide detailing why physician assisted suicide is wrong for Canada. But the one argument that many have overlooked is the very real likelihood that physician assisted suicide in Canada would actually lead tomore pain and suffering in Canada—not less.

Let me explain:

As a pain specialist I have evaluated hundreds of car accident victims over the past several years.  Interestingly, the patient suffering chronic pain from injuries sustained in the crash is almost always the victim—rarely the individual(s) responsible for the crash. Many falsely believe these patients are just trying to scam the system. While this might be the case in rare circumstances, almost always these victims have legitimate chronic pain.

Research has demonstrated that when the mind is clouded by negative emotions, such as anger, hate, bitterness, or depression, the body is unable to properly “turn off” pain signals arising from lower in the body. Car accident victims are often angry at the individual(s) who hit them, and frequently develop low mood and/or anxiety. All these negative emotions play a role in the development of chronic pain by way of something pain specialists call, “Central sensitization.” Peripheral sensitization and maladaptive central nervous system (i.e. brain) neuronal plasticity are also factors in the genesis of chronic pain. 

How does this relate to physician assisted suicide? 

If the recommendations provided by the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying become law, there will be many teenagers, parents, and grandparents killed against the will of their family members (especially those suffering from depression). Prime Minister Trudeau, it won’t be long and your children will be teenagers. You wouldn’t want someone to kill your teenagers against your will.  Why then would you want to kill other teenagers against the will of their parents?

A family can eventually learn to forgive a member who rashly commits suicide on their own. However, it will be extremely hard—if not impossible—for Canadian families to forgive the doctors and politicians responsible for their loved one’s death. The same rage that the Goldman’s displayed against O. J. Simpson will be the same anger directed at you and many others by Canadian families. These angry family members will be at significantly greater risk of developing depression and anxiety, with a high likelihood of developing chronic pain from even minor injuries—and sometimes no injury at all. For every one person you kill against the will of the family, you run a very high risk of triggering a lifetime of mental and/or physical illness/pain in at least one family member—and possibly the entire family.

Furthermore, there are over 5,000 physicians across Canada in the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, committed to protecting conscience rights for health practitioners and facilities. Many will refuse to kill their patients, and refuse to refer patients to be killed. For every doctor’s license you consequently take away, you will erase on average at least 2,000 patient encounters per doctor per year. Then there’s the doctors who will just quietly leave the country, and those who will refuse to move to Canada because of the hostile environment where doctors are forced to work against their consciences. Then add to this the number of healthcare professionals who will drop out of palliative care and Geriatrics for fear of losing their licenses. Do the math and the number of Canadians affected are staggering.

Will all this not result in even more pain and suffering for Canadians in the end?

Yes, there will always be individuals who want to kill themselves at the first diagnosis of a chronic disease. And there will always be arguments saying that not everyone has equal access to quality palliative care across Canada where adequate pain control is very often achieved. But what kind of country would rather kill its citizens than provide the necessary care and compassion they deserve?

Will the Liberal Party be popular with Canadians 1 year, 2 years, or 3 years from now? 

Will the Liberal Party be popular with the Person who created the teenagers, parents, and grandparents that you will kill? 

Thank you very much for your kind attention to this letter.


Brad Burke, MD, FRCPC
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Cc The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice
Cc The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health

Charlie Lewis: Why I oppose assisted suicide

By Charlie Lewis

For those who know me or have heard me speak against assisted suicide and euthanasia, you will be familiar with my struggle with spinal problems. I realize that my testimony about my own experience with horrific pain was fair game to use in my arguments against legalized euthanasia, given that legalized killing in this country would also include those with chronic pain.

Pain is universal. It is almost a common denominator of our humanity. Some lucky few will escape the worst of it or will only be plagued for a short time. For me it is now four years and counting. During that time I was forced to leave my beloved newspaper, The National Post, and my position as religion reporter — the greatest beat I had during my 33 years in journalism. And with that I lost the addictive camaraderie of the newsroom.

I was forced to cease nearly every activity I loved: cycling, hiking in the Rockies and moderate consumption of beer and wine — as well as the odd glass of bourbon or single malt scotch. The decision to stop drinking was not my own choice but the reality that after taking morphine every day it is simply too dangerous to consume alcohol.

None of these things should elicit pity. But my condition, along with two surgeries, knocked me into a world I did not expect to visit for many more years.

Pain is isolating. It can play mental tricks on you. It can make you sick to your stomach on some days and cause long bouts of insomnia. And then there is the isolation and the overriding feeling of worthlessness when you are no longer vital and creative.

In the Netherlands and Belgium those with chronic pain, as well as those with depression and other forms of mental illness, can qualify for state-sanctioned suicide. It appears from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of last February, when the Court ruled on assisted suicide and by extension euthanasia, that it will not only be the dying who will be granted the wish to die from a physician’s needle.

Link to the full article

Psychiatrist: Assisted suicide - More than meets the eye

Dr Steven King

Dr Steven King

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

An article written by Psychiatrist, Dr Steven King, and published in the Psychiatric Times examines assisted suicide from a scientific point of view.

King begins his article by stating that he is not religious and he is not pro-life, that his concerns are based on science.

I am not a Catholic nor do I have any particularly strong religious beliefs. I am strongly pro–abortion rights and believe that adults should be able to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender. I also believe that it is highly unethical for physicians to impose their religious or political views on their patients and allow these to affect how they care for them. However, I do have major concerns about the RTD laws. 
My concerns are based on science, not religion. As a pain medicine specialist and psychiatrist, I believe that the already existing laws and those that have been proposed have major holes that could result in people requesting death because of potentially treatable health problems.

King examines the assisted suicide laws based on their inability to protect depressed patients.

Link to the full article

Opinion: No cooperation with killers in euthanasia and assisted suicide

By Charlie Lewis

The fight against legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia is not getting any simpler. I sense from having spoken to a wide range of those who oppose euthanasia that people are splitting into two camps.

One camp says we must get involved with the process of creating a safe euthanasia law. They say if we stay on the sidelines we will have no chance to influence the outcome. On some level I can see how this would seem to make sense: Given the odds of stopping the legalization of euthanasia is becoming smaller by the day why not at least try to make it as safe as possible? Why not try to ensure the process has enough checks and hurdles that only a rare few can ever access euthanasia? This all makes sense except for the fact it is fatally flawed.

In almost every case where euthanasia or assisted suicide has had time to put down legal roots it grows. At first the law is narrowly applied and then it becomes wider. It starts with those with fatal diseases who are in unremitting pain... and then suddenly it opens its doors to those with chronic pain, psychological pain or those who simply have decided that life itself is a pain. Worse, none are required to seek out treatment as an alternative. Even in the case of fatal diseases, euthanasia cuts short what may have been good years without pain to be enjoyed. I am constantly amazed at the number of people who now beat cancer or live well even years after they were supposed to have died.

The other camp, the camp I am in and those who I most admire are part of, says no cooperation with killers. Imagine if euthanasia becomes legal. Anyone who assisted the government will be, in some way complicit. Even when people complain about how the law has become more deadly than what they pushed for, the government can say: "You had your chance. We let you help. You are as culpable as we are."

It is an understatement to say that the road myself and allies have taken is harder. Anyone who calls our route a long shot or even naive is not wrong. Yet, history is peppered with long shots that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Think of the Jewish people after the Second World War. The psychological devastation should have left survivors as lifelong psychiatric patients. Instead three years later Israel was created. Who could have predicted that?

Link to the full article

New Scientific discovery: Pain can be "turned-off"

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Most people recognize that legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide will lead to abuse with some people dying without request or being coerced into euthanasia, with support for euthanasia based on the fear of living with uncontrolled pain. The control of pain has significantly improved since the late 1960's when Cicely Saunders began to develop modern hospice techniques in the UK.

On November 26, Science Daily reported on a great new scientific discovery concerning the control of pain. Researchers at the St Louis University Medical Center published results of research in the medical journal Brain showing that the researchers may have found a way to block pain pathways which could lead to the effective control of neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is usually what has developed when people have uncontrolled pain.

Science daily reported that there may be an "off switch" for pain:

Link to the full article.