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Canadian Doctors Have Second Thoughts on Assisted Suicide

If “assisted death” is such a good thing, why are so many Canadian doctors having second thoughts?

Last year, Canada enacted a Medical Aid in Dying law. The legislation allows physicians to help gravely ill patients end their lives. Advocates of these sorts of laws justify it by using words such as “compassion,” and “death with dignity”—and many Canadian doctors agreed, saying they’d be glad to participate in physician-assisted suicide.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Canada’s brave new world of state-sponsored killing. Dozens of physicians who signed up, including many who actually provided lethal medications to patients, now want their names removed from the list. According to Canada’s National Post, in Ontario, one of the few provinces that actually tracks this kind of data, 24 physicians have been removed permanently from a voluntary referral list of those willing to assist people who want to end their lives. Another 30 have put their names on temporary hold. Not even the Canadian Medical Association can say how many are having second thoughts—but their decisions are reverberating through the system.

“We’re seeing individuals, or groups of physicians, who are participating and really feel like they’re alleviating pain, alleviating suffering,” says the CMA’s Jeff Blackmer. “And then we’re seeing doctors who go through one experience and it’s just overwhelming, it’s too difficult, and those are the ones who say, ‘take my name off the list. I can’t do any more.’”

That kind of reaction isn’t surprising, given the Hippocratic Oath every doctor takes, vowing to “do no harm” to patients. These doctors started out philosophically supportive of euthanasia … and then reality set in. The human conscience—and the law of God written on our hearts—are powerful things indeed.

But there are also the complications created by verbal ambiguities in the law. In Canada, euthanasia and assisted suicide are permitted for those with a “grievous and irremediable” condition and who face “enduring suffering,” but only if their death is deemed “reasonably foreseeable.”

According to Dr. James Downar, a critical- and palliative-care doctor with Toronto’s University Health Network, “grievous and irremediable” means “serious and incurable.” The problem, Downar says, is that the standard could apply to most chronic conditions. And when it comes to cancer, he says, “many people may have a remote chance of a cure, or disease stability. If it’s one, two or five per cent, is that ‘curable’?”

Meanwhile, as Vancouver Island family physician Jonathan Reggler says, that “reasonably foreseeable” standard “will not appear in any medical textbook.”

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SOURCE: Breakpoint