Three Common Issues With Assisted Suicide Laws

The debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia laws continues to increase around the world, but as Americans begin to see the repercussions of assisted suicide laws from our northern neighbors in Canada, even proponents of assisted suicide are questioning whether or not these laws are working.

There are three issues that this article by Nicholas Goldberg addresses that opponents of assisted suicide have been calling out for quite some time.

1. Discrimination of people with disabilities

“Three United Nations-appointed experts reported last year that the law appeared to violate the rights of the disabled and could have a “discriminatory effect” on them.”

The top five reasons people request the lethal drugs for assisted suicide are loss of autonomy, loss of ability to engage in activities, loss of dignity, loss of control of bodily functions, and feeling like a burden on others (Oregon Death With Dignity Act). These are disability-related issues. Assisted suicide laws communicate to people with disabilities who are experiencing these issues on a daily basis that their lives are not worth living and that it would be better for them to be dead than disabled.

It is not a question of whether these laws could discriminate against people with disabilities. It is verifiable that these laws absolutely discriminate against people with disabilities. Only people with disabilities qualify. Everyone else gets suicide prevention care.

2. Steering of patients by doctors

“Another worry is that Canadian doctors are initiating discussions about euthanasia with patients who are not otherwise considering it. Critics fear they may be encouraging patients to end their lives…Perhaps it makes sense to bar doctors from initiating discussions about assisted suicide and euthanasia…”

The doctor patient relationship is built on trust, but it is by nature an imbalanced relationship. When it is the doctors who are initiating these conversations, their authority is stamped on the suggestion, which is a nudge by the non vulnerable person in the relationship. The patient has to trust that their lives are not being devalued, that doctors or other medical professionals will not help them kill themselves in a dark moment, when they give everyone else suicide prevention.

3. “Safeguards” that aren’t working

“Canada appears to have fewer safeguards than other countries that allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. Whatever reasonable protections can be enacted to ensure people aren’t encouraged, steered, or pressured into ending their lives should be welcomed.”

Canada’s “safeguards” were in place in the original formation of the assisted suicide laws. They included limits such as requiring the patient to have an “irremediable” condition, that the person must be given multiple options to change their minds, that if they do not have a “natural death foreseeable” that “the person has been informed of the means available to relieve their suffering, including, where appropriate, counseling services, mental health and disability support services, community services and palliative care and has been offered consultations with relevant professionals who provide those services or that care” (Canada’s Criminal Code, 2016, c. 3, s. 3).

Not only were these “safeguards” ignored or circumvented with impunity by many when they are in place, but now Canada and several jurisdictions in the US where the practice is legal are removing yesterday’s “safeguards,” which are today’s “barriers to access.” What little safeguard were in place are being eroded. Assisted suicide laws will never be safe.

You cannot both have assisted suicide laws and protect those with disabilities, avoid steering by doctors, and trust existing safeguards. Experience has born that out, but hopefully it’s not too late to close Pandora’s box.

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