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Canada advocates warn of worsening trends in euthanasia


Shutterstock | RaulNunez

John Burger - published on 08/14/22

Canada, which saw more than 10,000 cases of euthanasia last year, is set to expand access to what it calls medical aid in dying.

Canada had more than 10,000 cases of euthanasia last year, and the country is set to expand access to what it calls medical aid in dying next year. But activists are warning that the laws on the books regulating euthanasia and assisted suicide are already too loose.

The law has already expanded access since it was first enacted in 2016, in response to a Canadian Supreme Court decision. At first, euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized for persons aged 18 and over if they had a serious condition, disease or disability that was in an advanced, irreversible state of decline and they were enduring “unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be relieved under conditions that patients consider acceptable.” A person’s death had to be “reasonably foreseeable,” and the request for euthanasia had to be approved by at least two physicians.

A later amendment allowed the procedures for persons who were not terminally ill. That has significantly broadened the number of people eligible, and 2021’s figure of 10,000 euthanasia deaths represents a 33% increase over the prior year’s statistics. 

“Next year, the country is set to allow people to be killed exclusively for mental health reasons. It is also considering extending euthanasia to ‘mature’ minors — children under 18 who meet the same requirements as adults,” the Associated Press reported.

The AP’s Maria Cheng filed a report that described cases where assisted suicide or euthanasia were being accepted or pushed without enough oversight. 

Roger Foley, who has a degenerative brain disorder and is hospitalized in London, Ontario, said he was so alarmed by staffers mentioning euthanasia that he began secretly recording some of their conversations. 

In one recording, the hospital’s director of ethics told Foley that for him to remain in the hospital, it would cost “north of $1,500 a day,” said AP, which had obtained the recordings. Foley replied that mentioning fees felt like coercion and asked what plan there was for his long-term care. 

“Roger, this is not my show,” the ethicist responded. “My piece of this was to talk to you, (to see) if you had an interest in assisted dying.” 

The hospital said that there is no prohibition on staff raising the issue. 

Catherine Frazee, a professor emerita at Toronto’s Ryerson University, told the wire service that cases like Foley’s were likely just the tip of the iceberg. 

“It’s difficult to quantify it, because there is no easy way to track these cases, but I and other advocates are hearing regularly from disabled people every week who are considering (euthanasia),” said Frazee. 

In another case, Alan Nichols, a 61-year-old man who had a history of depression, was put to death without his family’s knowledge. In the application Nichols filled out for euthanasia, the only medical condition he listed was hearing loss.

Nichols’ family said he lacked the capacity to understand the process and was not suffering unbearably. They charged that hospital staffers improperly helped him request euthanasia.

Disability rights advocates are leading calls for reform. Heidi Janz, an assistant adjunct professor in Disability Ethics at the University of Alberta, said “a person with disabilities in Canada has to jump through so many hoops to get support that it can often be enough to tip the scales” and lead them to euthanasia.

Last year, three U.N. human rights experts wrote that Canada’s medical aid in dying law had a “discriminatory impact” on disabled people and was inconsistent with Canada’s obligations to uphold international human rights standards. They opined that the law appeared to violate the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Theresia Degener, a professor of law and disability studies at the Protestant University for Applied Sciences in Germany, said that allowing euthanasia based exclusively on disability was a clear human rights violation.

“The implication of (Canada’s) law is that a life with disability is automatically less worth living and that in some cases, death is preferable,” Degener told AP.

Commenting on the AP report, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said simply, “Canada needs to re-evaluate its euthanasia law and reverse its current permissive legal euthanasia law.”

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