Canada’s extremely liberal euthanasia laws, which are set to be extended next year to include people with mental disorders and potentially minors, have been criticized for being a reminder of how The Nazis cared for the disabled by a leading scholar in the field.
In a article published by the Associated Press Last week, Tim Stainton, director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, said the country’s permissive euthanasia laws were “probably the greatest existential threat for people with disabilities since the Nazi program in Germany in the 1930s”.
The AP article also detailed the story of Alan Nichols, 61, who had a history of hearing loss and depression and, according to Nichols’ brother, was unlawfully “put to death” by the Canadian state in 2019.
Although Nichols’ family cited a pitiful lack of supervision and gross negligence on the part of the medical professionals treating him, the Canadian Mounted Police, in conjunction with the British Columbia Ministry of Health, refused to lay criminal charges.
Nevertheless, the episode, combined with the upcoming expansion of laws governing euthanasia in Canada in 2023, raises serious questions.
Could it be that a country renowned for its “liberal universalism” and libertarian fundamentalism has grotesquely perverted the principle of accessibility when it comes to medical assistance in dying?
Accessibility is, in most cases, that valuable ethic and cornerstone that allows people with disabilities to thrive as functioning members of society.
Yet in this area, unfettered accessibility may indeed prove to be one of the most malignant forces the disability community has faced since the Third Reich’s “mercy killings” nearly a decade ago. nine decades.
A global problem
Around the world, euthanasia, where doctors use lethal doses of drugs to end the lives of patients with terminal and chronic illnesses, is legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Bas, in New Zealand, Spain and parts of Australia.
Additionally, several US states, including California, Colorado, and New Jersey, allow a format in which a physician can prescribe barbiturates which are then self-administered by the patient.
Canada’s euthanasia laws came into effect in 2016 and left an estimated 10,000 dead last year.
Proponents of the practice in Canada say there are strong checks and balances in place and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said the national euthanasia law “recognizes the rights of all people. ..as well as the inherent and equal value of every life”.
Nonetheless, there are several trends and protocols that set Canada apart from other jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal and that have led opponents to express concern that the country’s medical establishment is teetering on the edge of a precipice.
Unlike Belgium and the Netherlands, there are no monthly commissions in place to review problematic cases, while in Canada the procedure itself can be undertaken by a nurse practitioner rather than being reserved for doctors.
Perhaps most troubling of all, and where the issue has become most politicized and confused with liberal fundamentalism, is the way euthanasia is proactively offered as a “treatment option” by doctors who take care of the patients.
Whereas in other countries where it is legal, euthanasia seems to be more isolated from all other medical remedies and seen as something quite separate – in Canada it seems to be more deliberately inserted into routine dialogue between doctors and their patients.
For eligible patients, who don’t need to have a terminal illness but simply a life-limiting disability – it’s not so much that doctors encourage them to choose euthanasia, but rather offer it as a equal status choice among other treatment options and palliative care – in some situations without the patient himself bringing up the subject.
Live with dignity
Dr. Ramona Coelho, a Canadian family physician, told The Associated Press: “The whole premise of the legislation is based on a discriminatory approach to people with disabilities.
Continuing further, “Most Canadians think of it as a compassionate service offered to people who have nothing left to offer and are offered death as a way out. When in fact the system is applied so generously and easily in such a short time that people are dying who would have recovered with more care and resources to live.
It’s a view shared by Marie-Claude Landry, president of the country’s human rights commission, who said euthanasia “cannot be a failure for Canada to fulfill its human rights”.
Addressing the notion that when patients are presented with treatment options by physicians, they are likely to view their future life with disability through the lens of economic deprivation, Landry said, “In a time when we recognize the right to die with dignity, we must do more to guarantee the right to live with dignity.
Last year, three United Nations human rights experts condemned Canadian legislation as having a “discriminatory impact” on people with disabilities and running counter to international human rights standards.
Meanwhile, during a recent visit to the countryPope Francis has attacked Canada’s culture of utilitarianism in regards to its policy of euthanasia, lamenting that “patients who, instead of affection, are administered death.”
Some will say that interventions based on religious precepts simply risk polarizing a debate that is worthwhile and that can no longer be avoided by any country in the world.
To extend religious connotations, it is often said that “the devil is in the details”, but in the case of Canada’s euthanasia law, the opposite seems to be true.
Surely, the real danger lies in the vagueness, latitude and sense of laissez-faire brought about by the unique interplay of such an ethically and emotionally complex political domain and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unbreakable pact with the liberal universalism.
There are unlikely to be any easy answers here.
However, a starting point could be to recognize that accessibility should only be about maintaining the primacy of the well-being of people with disabilities and never be misused as a front to support much broader political ideals.