Euthanasia has grown to be one the biggest debates prevailing in Canada. It draws in the issue of morals, healthcare, and society. Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide provokes many emotions out of Canadian citizens. The ever present “Right to Die” and “Right to Live” groups are constantly trying to impose their strong views on Canadian society.
Even with the influence of these protesting groups, the growing debate between euthanasia and whether it should be legalized is an extremely difficult decision. Despite euthanasia being advantageous in some aspects, it should not be legalized due to the fact that is viewed as ethically unacceptable according to Canadian policies, and it would negatively affect various people, including older adults.
This paper will outline the different types of euthanasia, the history of euthanasia, Canadian policies pertaining to euthanasia, demographic changes, the debate as to why it should not be legalized and the effects of legalization on various persons.
Euthanasia: General Information and History
Types of Euthanasia
Euthanasia is widely believed to be the intent to kill someone in order to end suffering.
The types of euthanasia are passive, active, physician assisted suicide, involuntary, non-voluntary and voluntary. Physician assisted suicide is a type of euthanasia where a physician provides the means to aid in a competent patients wish to die (Csikai, 1999, p.50). In the simplest terms active euthanasia is when one does something to hasten death; it is directly killing or
“euthanizing” someone. Passive euthanasia is the idea of a person not doing anything to hasten death.
An example of this would be withdrawing medical treatment. Finally, voluntary euthanasia is when a supposedly competent person agrees to be euthanized. While Involuntary euthanasia pertains to the intentional killing of a competent person without their knowledge.
Finally, non-voluntary euthanasia is ending a mentally incompetent patient’s life. (Csikai, 1999, p.50). Evidently, there are several different forms of euthanasia and many of them correlate. For instance, active voluntary euthanasia according to Csikai (1999, p.50) is, “The case of a physician administering the lethal dose of medication to a competent person who explicitly requests it”. Overall, there are many types of euthanasia that can be used to end a patient’s life.
History of Euthanasia
Throughout history beliefs on euthanasia have been constantly changing. In the Greek and Roman eras, euthanasia was justified as the comforting of a dying patient. During this age, society believed that a person had the right to request suicide if that was his or her choice (Boer, 2007, p. 535). In the course of this time period euthanasia was widely accepted.
Then, when Christianity became the dominating religion, the beliefs of “mercy killing” and suicide were modified and looked at as negatively. On the contrary, the 1800s led to the growing idea of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”; which is to say the idea that only the strongest of a species should survive and leave the “weak” to fend for themselves. This concept influenced the idea of British eugenics. Eugenics is the idea of supporting the rich, and leaving the poor, unfortunate and weak to fend for themselves (Gittelman, 1999, p.369). This idea of eugenics was 3
incorporated by the Nazis in order to justify the use of involuntary euthanasia on people who were disabled. The public consent of this concept allowed for the acceptance of the Nazi regime trying to euthanize other “undesirable” groups, such as the Jews. Ultimately, it is evident that society’s views on euthanasia have been conflicting throughout history.
Canada’s Policies on Euthanasia
Euthanasia is currently illegal in Canada, the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits it. If someone violates this law, he or she can be charged with homicide, regardless if the victim consents to these actions. One of the infamous Supreme Court cases regarding euthanasia was the R v. Latimer case (Judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada, 2001). This case involved a man named Robert Latimer, he was convicted of murdering his twelve year old daughter, Tracy, who had a severe form of cerebral palsy.
His daughter was totally dependent on her parents to take care of her. Her father felt like her worsening condition was not worth living for, so he put his daughter into his truck and let the exhaust pipe in. Tracy Latimer died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The courts found her father guilty and was sentenced to second degree murder and life imprisonment. This case is one prime example of Canada’s laws regarding euthanasia, and how it is not tolerated. Demographic Changes and the Effects on Healthcare
Within Canada there are many demographic changes occurring pertaining to older adults and health care. A large demographic change is connected to the baby boomers; the age category 4
of people born after World War II. The amount of people born within this era is extremely populous in comparison to other generations, which is ultimately why these people are called the “baby boomers”. This can pose as a problem because this “baby boomer” generation is currently aging.
Effects of these Changes on Society
In order to attain the luxury of Canada’s free healthcare, the government must put a strain on citizens through taxes. Although, with the aging baby boomers the healthcare system is looking at providing long term care for this group of people as a burden. Older adults already feel as if they are burden to the ones they love. From studies it is shown that most requests for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide come from the idea of the person having a fear of losing control of their body, being dependent on others and troublesome to the ones they love(Lavery & Dickens, 1997, p.1407).
This is problematic because physicians can look at the healthcare issue and older adults and try to provide new solutions for the lack of funds being put into healthcare. Euthanasia can be looked at as a key solution to the healthcare problem to some physicians. In their opinion, with older adults already feeling useless to society, they can use it as an excuse to euthanize them. Although there are some costs to euthanasia, it is seemingly much less than the long term costs of caring for a dependable person such as an older adult. Therefore, the legalization of euthanasia can be looked at as an easy solution to the dwelling problem of insufficient healthcare funds to support the aging baby boomers.
Legalization of Euthanasia
Policies that have been Proposed
There are many valid arguments pertaining to the the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia is such an emotional issue that Canadians are often torn between which side to choose, so much so that a bill was almost passed to legalize euthanasia. In the fall of 2009 Bill C-384 was proposed by Francine Lalonde, a member of the Bloc Quebecois Party (Collier, 2009, p.464). This bill outlines the “right to die with dignity” as Lalonde summarizes.
It eliminate euthanasia as a crime and would allow medical practitioners to kill people if, “physical or mental pain without prospect of relief and have provided a medical practitioner, while appearing to be lucid, with two written requests more than 10 days apart expressly stating the person’s free and informed consent to opt to die” (Collier, 2009, p.464). These were the key, controversial aspects of Bill C-384.
The main logistic of this being a reasonable bill to pass is that many people have seen someone they love die, and some people believe there is a more dignified way to do it, and that way is euthanasia. This is the core belief of Ruth von Fuchs; who is the secretary of the Right to Die Society of Canada (Collier, 2009, p. 463). He believes the move towards legislative change can be correlated to the fact that a lot of populations around the world are aging quickly. If Ruth von Fuchs argument is true, then the passing of Bill C-384 would eliminates the vast problem of healthcare that was mentioned earlier. The legalization of euthanasia can save the Canadian government tons of extra money. However, Bill C-384 was defeated on April 21, 2010 during the
second reading at Parliament (Craine, 2010, para. 2). The rejection of the bill shows that despite some advantageous aspects to Bill C-384, it largely has a negative effect on society.
Effects of Legalization: Why it should Not be Legalized
Effects on the Terminally Ill
Though Bill C-384 appears to be beneficial in some aspects, there are many major negative effects on the legalization of euthanasia. The terminally ill is one group of people where legalization may drastically affect them. Yes, there is the debate that people suffering from terminal illnesses have the right not to endure the vast amounts of pain that no human being wants to go through.
On the contrary, pain is not the prime reason many people seek euthanasia. In actuality, the main reasons are the idea that their life is not worthy because they live with a disability, and the idea of being a burden to others (Soccocia, 2010, p.483). Supporters of PAS and euthanasia state that when people request to be euthanized their decision is autonomous; however, there is the debate as to whether their decision is truly autonomous. When a person chooses to die while he or she is terminally ill, it can be looked at as a forced decision due to their seemingly poor standard of life.
It cannot be considered a rational, autonomous decision when the person believes there are no other alternatives. Furthermore, the belief that a person’s life is not dignified due to disability can be created through false views on what is believed to be the “right” way to live. The problem does not lie within the idea of dying a dignified death, but rather within the ideal of believing that living a life with a form of disability is undignified.
Effects on Doctors
Additionally, the legalization of euthanasia would not only affect patients, but doctors as well. The relationship between a doctor and a patient would be undermined if this law were to come int effect (Lund, 1997, para. 1). Rightfully, patients would not be able to trust their doctors as much because they know the doctors could potentially strongly recommend euthanasia as a solution to serious illness. Though this threat seems implausible, it is in fact a very common worry in countries where euthanasia is widely accepted. For instance, in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, many people are frightened to go to the doctors. Lund states in his
A privately financed survey in 1989 showed that 40 percent of Dutch physicians had performed euthanasia without patients’ consent..And what reasons did physicians give for these homicides? intractable pain was mentioned in less than a third of the cases. More commonly physicians mentioned “low quality of life, the relatives, inability to cope and no prospect for improvement.” (Lund, 1997, para. 6)
These statistics are worrisome to many people. Citizens of a country should not be worried as to whether their doctor will recommend assisted suicide to them without their consent. Also, there is controversy pertaining to the Hippocratic oath of physicians. This oath outlines for doctors to “do no harm”(Csikai & Manetta, 2002, p.89). This oath pertains to harm including the use of lethal injections. Therefore, the legalization of euthanasia would go against this oath and cause distrust between doctors and their patients. Effects on Older Adults
Finally, the legalization of euthanasia has drastic effects on older adults. For some older adults, old age comes with chronic depression. Some older adults, especially if they become ill, 8
feel incapacitated and unable to provide for society or their families. As some people age they feel like a burden to the ones they love, so euthanasia appears like a reasonable solution. These beliefs are proven to be true through statistics shown in that state between 8-20 % of older adults show depressive symptoms, and 37% of adults living in settings where they receive primary care are also seemingly depressed.
Moreover, Csikai and Manetta argue that depression is not usually recognized straight away so the numbers may in fact be higher (as cited in Administration on Aging, 2001).
Furthermore, medical illness contributes greatly to the ideal of suicide within older adults. Csikai and Manetta also argue that 35-70% of suicides performed by older adults are related to a medical illness they have, yet medical illness only affects 10% of suicides in younger adults (as cited in Conwell, 1997; Hughes & Kleepies, 2001; Rihmer, Rutz, & Pihlgren, 1995).
Consequently, if euthanasia was legalized in Canada, with Bill C-384 as an example, the patient has to appear to be lucid in order to receive their request. Many older adults can appear to be lucid, but in actuality are chronically depressed. Someone who is depressed is prescribed as having a mental illness, yet Bill C-384 does not take this into account.
Likewise, older adults are often persuaded by loved ones to conform to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. Relating to the Oregon “Death with Dignity Act”, throughout the three years that it was present the number of married patients who sought to be euthanized increased. Csikai and Manetta stated in their article, “In 2000, 18 of the 27 who died from PAS were married compared to 12 of 27 in 1999 and 2 of 16 in 1998. Ninety percent of patients died in their homes, presumably with family present” (Csikai & Manetta, 2003, pp.89-90). These 9
statistics show that many families in Oregon were aware and accepted their loved one’s choice to be euthanized. Perhaps if someone in the family was to object to this “solution”, the patient would not have sought for euthanasia. In conclusion, older adults are drastically influenced by euthanasia, whether they choose to be or not; which is why the legalization of euthanasia would ultimately have a negative effect on them.
The main points concluded in this paper are that the legalization of euthanasia would not be effective due it being viewed as ethically wrong according to Canadian laws and policies. Furthermore, the legalization of euthanasia would negatively affect various persons including older adults. Though there are some beneficial aspects to legalization, as seen in Bill C-384, the negative effects are prevalent. The nation-wide acceptance of euthanasia would overall detriment, rather than help the majority of society. Though, there are some exceptions, the Canadian government needs to set a precedent for its country. If Bill C-384 was passed by Parliament almost anyone could ask to euthanized, as long as they appeared to be coherent.
To conclude, if euthanasia was a reasonable response to the problem of the terminally ill, the elderly, and the healthcare system, the “Right to Die with Dignity Act” would have been passed on April 21, 2010, rather than denied. As a result, further research into the effects of the legalization should be looked at greatly before Canada makes any drastic decision as to legalizing euthanasia or not.