October 26, 2005: A group of 100 physicians and lawyers has issued a strong warning not to legalize physician assisted suicide or euthanasia in Canada. This statement has been issued in advance of the second reading of private members Bill C-407 scheduled for October 31st. The Bill seeks to legalize physician assisted suicide.
The document was signed by 61 physicians (comprising essentially all medical specialties including several professors, practicing in such diverse fields as family and internal medicine, oncology, surgery, anaesthesiology, psychiatry, neurology, radiology, medical ethics and palliative care) and is being sent to all MPs to alert them to the dangers of altering existing legislation. The document has also been endorsed by 39 lawyers.
The statement warns that 'while euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide may superficially appear attractive, they have profound adverse effects on the social fabric of society, on attitudes towards death and illness and on attitudes towards those who are ill or have disabilities.'
The brief warns that in the Netherlands, where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide have been legalized, at least 1,000 patients including children and newborn babies are being killed every year without their consent by doctors. Nearly one in ten deaths of newborn babies in Holland occurs after doctors administer medication to babies with the explicit purpose of hastening death.
The statement quotes UK palliative care specialists who warn that 'Euthanasia, once accepted, is uncontrollable for philosophical, logical and practical reasons. Patients will certainly die without and against their wishes if any such legislation is introduced.'
The doctors state: "It is easier and cheaper to kill a patient than to treat." The brief warns that once euthanasia or physician- assisted suicide has been legalized, it would put immense pressure on those who, due to illness or disability, consider themselves to be a burden to relatives or society. Patients or individuals with disabilities will be pressured, warns the letter, into euthanasia or physician assisted suicide.
In Oregon, where physician assisted suicide has been legalized, almost two-thirds of all those who died through physician assisted suicide were at least to some extent motivated by the belief that they had become a burden to others. The letter notes that the desire to die and the will to live frequently changes over time, especially if pain and depression have been treated. The 'wish to die' is rarely a truly autonomous decision.
Rather than assisted suicide leading to a 'good death', the brief notes that medical evidence from Holland shows that nearly one in five patients who attempted physician-assisted suicide were killed by their doctors, because the procedure failed. Some patients took many hours to several days to die, when they eventually succumbed to the poison they took - certainly not a 'death with dignity'.
The document warns that legalizing euthanasia and physician assisted suicide will have a very negative effect on the doctor-patient relationship. Patients will wonder whether the physician is wearing 'the white coat of the healer or the black hood of the executioner'. The doctors state categorically: "'As physicians, we ever want to become the executioners of our patients."
The document warns that it is impossible to legislate without this legislation being abused. A change in the legislation, it suggests, will only lead to further devaluing of human life, especially for the vulnerable members of society.
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