Aug 31, 2022
In 2016, Canada legalized euthanasia through the euphemistically titled Medical Aid in Dying (or MAiD). Since passing, the number of Canadians who either “enthusiastically” or “cautiously” support the practice has risen slightly from 75% to 80%. The response from communities representing those with disabilities, however, has remained consistently opposed. Their fears, that Canada’s end-of-life policies would prove to be only the cliff edge of a moral abyss, have proven to be largely accurate.
As Maria Cheng of the Associated Press has reported, Canada “arguably has the most permissive euthanasia rules [in the world.]” Just last year, over 10,000 lives were legally taken, an increase of a third from the year before. Patients can request aid in dying without informing family members and for any reason, including, beginning in 2023, mental health issues and not just physical suffering. Doctors, as well as nurse practitioners, can raise the topic of euthanasia with any patient and are not required to first exhaust all other treatment options. Though the government keeps track of yearly deaths by euthanasia, it does not have a commission to review troubling cases, a practice used by other permissive nations like Belgium and the Netherlands.
Next year, euthanasia will likely be extended to so-called “mature” minors. At a time when so many efforts are being made toward suicide prevention among teenagers, they will be taught that death is an acceptable way out of mental anguish. Horrific.
The deadly cocktail of adverse incentives, little accountability, and ineffective “safeguards” have led to a context in which, as AP’s Cheng wrote, “Some disabled Canadians have decided to be killed in the face of mounting bills. .… Other disabled people say the easy availability of euthanasia has led to unsettling and sometimes frightening discussions.”
The worst impact of this slope Canada is sliding down could be a perversion of the word “care.” For example, one Canadian armed forces veteran was outraged after a healthcare worker raised the possibility of assisted death as a “treatment” option for his PTSD. Alan Nichols was a 61-year-old man who was hospitalized in 2019 over fears he might be suicidal. “Within a month,” Cheng described, “Nichols submitted a request to be euthanized and he was killed, despite concerns raised by his family and a nurse practitioner.” The only physical health condition listed on Nichol’s form of consent was hearing loss. According to his brother Gary, “Alan was basically put to death.”
Stories like these are shocking, but we can’t say we were not warned by nearly every disability group in Canada, observers from the UN, and even the American Medical Association. When it comes to euthanasia and doctor-assisted death, abuses and loopholes are not anomalies. They are inevitabilities of a system that operates from a cheapened view of human value and a redefined understanding of healthcare.
The AMA’s official opinion makes clear, “Euthanasia is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.” Particularly in a single-payer health care system like Canada’s, the decision of who lives and who dies will inevitably be influenced by crass factors such as money, access to medical resources, and arbitrary decisions about what constitutes “quality of life.”
Against such cultural headwinds, mere “consent” is not enough. In fact, whenever and wherever it is legalized, the so-called “right” to die soon becomes a perceived “duty to die.” Patients consistently report making decisions about not wanting to be “a burden” on friends or family, or because they are convinced, as law and disability professor Theresia Degener described, “a life with disability is automatically less worth living and that in some cases, death is preferable.”
Euthanasia is at odds with any civilized vision of human value. As Alan Nichols’ sister-in-law said, “Somebody needs to take responsibility so that it never happens to another family. I am terrified of my husband or another relative being put in the hospital and somehow getting these (euthanasia) forms in their hand.”
Let’s pray the rest of the world learns from Canada’s terrible example and in nation after nation the lid of this Pandora’s box will be slammed shut.