Living with euthanasia: the ethical imperative of providing alternatives

Mar 28, 2023 by

by Margaret Somerville, MercatorNet:

If, like me, you argued that legalising euthanasia was a very dangerous and unwise idea, you lost the battle to prevent its legalisation in Canada as the euphemistically labelled “Medical Assistance in Dying” (or MAiD) law, and, most recently, in all the Australian states as the “Voluntary Assisted Dying” (or VAD) laws.

These ordinary sounding acronyms are neither neutral nor accidental. They suppress our moral intuitions about what these interventions involve: namely, physicians, and, in Canada and some Australian states, nurse practitioners, intentionally inflicting death on their patients – stated more bluntly, killing them. That results in the normalisation of euthanasia.

I will use the word “euthanasia” for both MAiD and VAD, and, except where otherwise indicated, both euthanasia strictly so-called (i.e. a lethal injection) and physician-assisted suicide (in which the physician provides the patient with a lethal medication to self-administer). Normalisation has occurred at “warp speed” in Canada, but it is too early to assess that phenomenon in Australia. Euthanasia becomes just another way to die, as the Canadian statistics demonstrate so powerfully.

Logical and practical ‘slippery slopes’

The arguments against legalizing euthanasia include the unavoidable “logical” and “practical” slippery slopes that result. Experience shows that once legalized, euthanasia very quickly becomes normalized and both the “logical slippery slope” (i.e. the major expansion of who may have access, and on what conditions, and in which circumstances) and the “practical slippery” slope (i.e. failure to comply with the law in administering euthanasia) are unavoidable.

The logical slippery slope is dramatically evidenced in the implementation of MAiD in Canada and the practical slippery slope in the Flanders region of Belgium. In less than four years, Canada moved from relatively restrictive initial limitations on MAiD to some people speaking of going to court to argue that there is a right to euthanasia on demand – in effect, a right to die. The Canadian Parliament repealed the need for “death to be reasonably foreseeable” because a Quebec court ruled that this requirement breached persons’ constitutional rights to “life, liberty and security of the person,” as well as “equality rights.” The court held that it constituted wrongful discrimination insofar as people who were terminally ill could have access to euthanasia while those who were not terminally ill, even though they fulfilled all the other requirements for access, could not. This is an unusual ruling in that people without a required disability are seen as the victims of discrimination – based on the absence of a disability rather than the presence of a disability.

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