Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(3) August 2017
MAiD for Spiritual Peril: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Canadian Healthcare
The Current State of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)
At the time of writing this article Switzerland (since 1942), Columbia (1997), the Netherlands (2002), Belgium (2002), Luxembourg (2009), and 6 states in America (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana and Colorado) offer some form of medical assistance in dying (MAiD); and now Canada proudly joins this relatively small, but growing list.
As of December, 28th 2016, 744 Canadians had sought MAiD. That equates to ~4 patients being killed each day, or 1,460 annually. Reports suggest that, as patients and their families become more accepting of MAiD, the numbers of patients requesting it will begin to accelerate; indeed, frighteningly, this is already being recognized!
The Canadian Medical Association Journal just published a cost-analysis, based on data from Belgium and the Netherlands, which predicts an annual cost-saving to the healthcare system of $34.7-138.8 million. When you consider to what lengths Governments will go to reduce healthcare spending, the concern is that these statistics will only fuel their desire to engineer even greater access for patients. However, it appears as though government has struck what they consider to be an “appropriate and prudent balance”, for now. Instead, it is the Canadian Bar Association and patients themselves (currently at least, and most publicly) who are the driving force behind loosening the current legislation and, thereby, expanding access (e.g. to psychiatric patients, mature minors and those without a foreseeable death), happily supported by a morally and ethically corrupt media, happy to publish a panoply of casuistic, emotive articles rife with the sophistry of the pro-death agenda.
As a Catholic, I am, of course, morally, ethically and religiously opposed to MAiD! Thankfully, being a trainee, as opposed to an independently practicing physician, I am not obliged to provide MAiD. Rather, I am afforded a dispensation (akin to that already afforded in regard to contraception and abortion). However, when I qualify to practice independently, I’ll be expected to provide an “effective referral” to a physician who is willing to provide for the patient’s request. Of course, this places Catholic physicians in an extremely difficult position, potentially forcing them into professional “martyrdom”: for we cannot act in a way that would make us complicit in sin. For the sake of our souls (and those of our patients), let us not deceive ourselves that it can be otherwise, now or ever.
As a result of the current legislation and its terminology, I feel an incredible personal tumult every time I think about Indeed, every patient who is approaching the terminal phase of their lives suddenly represents a potential moral, ethical and religious conflict. It’s inevitable (unless we win the greatest of victories for Our Lord) that, at some stage during one’s career, a patient will make the request for MAiD.
A close family friend, who’s an experienced family physician, came face-to-face with just this inevitability when one of her long-term patients, whose health declined to the point that his death was now foreseeable and who perceived his dignity had finally been lost, asked for MAiD. Thankfully, my friend’s conscience is well formed, but she still availed herself of the erudite advice from the Catholic Bioethics Centre (other supportive organisations include Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Physicians for Life) so that she could navigate the tempestuous path that lay ahead with the greatest confidence and sensitivity. Mercifully, the patient’s clinical condition deteriorated so quickly that much of what she feared never materialized and she was spared any conflict. Instead, as her patient drew closer to his death, strongly motivated by her Catholic faith (supported by prayer and the grace that flows from it), she accompanied (in the true traditional sense of the word) the patient through his suffering, offering him care options intended to provide for a dignified and solaced death.
Sorrowfully, I too have already been exposed (only a few months into my training) to MAiD. Mercifully, I was able to avail myself of the dispensation afforded me as a trainee. As a result, I was able to exempt myself from any conversations relating to MAiD, or processes relating to its provision. Instead, I focused my medical attentions entirely on the patient’s other healthcare needs and was consequently spared any conflict. As one might expect, it was a surreal and troubling experience. For one, the patient did not meet criteria for MAiD when he initially requested it. Moreover, he suffered an acute deterioration (seemingly unrelated to his known medical problems) in his health, within weeks, that rendered him delirious, obtunded and, thereby, incompetent. Unfortunately, the patient was aggressively sedated and narcotized under the premise of palliative care, dying within a few days.
The Perilous Future of Healthcare and Society
Family medicine again finds itself on the front line of another moral, ethical and political theatre of battle. Healthcare practitioners with religious convictions can feel caught between the Scylla and Charybdis, without recourse or succour. They can feel powerless to protect patients, whom they swore an oath to serve with unwavering beneficence and charity.
Much of the time I am a lone voice crying in the wilderness, desperately trying to share the truth and educate people around the opposing ethical views on the matter, as well as the potential (and in some cases, already realised) abuses of MAiD. However, persuading people of the moral abyss we are descending into presents a significant challenge. So many are laissez faire regarding the legislation and/or convinced that the only issue is preventing abuse of the law, not the law itself.
Every day I’m confronted by the sophism of supporters of this culture of death. My concerns for society as well as our shared values and culture are laughed at and ridiculed: the concept of a social contract is mocked and pilloried; social conscience is abrogated (although it has been atrophying for years); self-determination and autonomy rule!
I recognise that society is desperately fearful of death and, having lost its faith, sees no meaning or value in suffering. However, assisted suicide and euthanasia is a complete moral, ethical and social catastrophe that only serves to imperil vulnerable individuals and abrogate all safeguards that protect the sanctity of life; that is to say nothing of the affront to God’s divine laws.
As Catholic healthcare workers, we must defend our patients as well as
protect all from this gravely disordered scandal and its spiritual
nefariousness. I regret that some are already egregiously neglecting their
responsibility in this regard, citing “pastoral accompaniment” despite its
clearly erroneous dogma.
We are all asked to be champions and martyrs for Christ, to follow in his footsteps, to take up our cross and to wear our crown of thorns. We must be a beacon of light for patients and shining example of Catholic charity, fervently offering the gamut of beneficent healthcare whilst decrying all that endangers our souls and those of our patients.
Authored by a physician-in-training practicing in Canada
ad majorem Dei Gloriam
- Slaughter G. At least 744 assisted-deaths in Canada since law passed: CTV News analysis [Internet]. CTV News. 2016. Available from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/at-least-744-assisted-deaths-in-canada-since-law-passed-ctv-news-analysis-1.3220382 [accessed 25/7/2017]
- Trachtenberg AJ, Manns B. Cost analysis of medical assistance in dying in Canada. CMAJ [Internet]. 2017;189:E101–5. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28246154 [accessed 25/7/2017]
- Bryden J. Lawyers want to expand assisted dying, feds say Carter decision doesn’t apply [Internet]. CBC News. 2016. Available from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/assisted-dying-carter-federal-cba-1.3718141 [accessed 25/7/2017]