Legal Euthanasia in Quebec: A Dangerous Experiment On Our Doctors

July 06, 2014

Quebec is avant-garde all right...a leader in the self-destruction of our civilization. Having had enough of those silly Belgian French accents stealing the spotlight, this month our neighbouring province decided to become the fourth place in the world to legalize full-blown euthanasia.

No, not the watered-down "assisted suicide" version that various American states have opted for. Quebec would never be anywhere but the cutting edge (so to speak) and so it has given doctors the green light to administer lethal injections.

Canadians thus have a new retirement destination if they want to end their lives with the same dignity that we give to our dogs (actually, dogs are apparently entitled to better treatment than euthanasia). 

American death tourists, on the other hand, appear to be out of luck for the time being and will need to continue flying overseas, unless they want to go through the trouble of becoming temporary residents of Quebec.

For all those who still believe that Quebec is a “Catholic” province (and I just had one such conversation last week), it should now be as plain as day that Quebec is about as Catholic as San Francisco is Republican.

Or perhaps as Catholic as say, Britain, where the latest is that their Supreme Court has said that “an assisted-suicide ban is incompatible with human rights” and has sent the message that Parliament needs to “change the law to be in line with human rights guarantees”. (Note that the ultimate fate of the Quebec legislation will likely also be decided by our secular pontificate, the Supreme Court).

Why is euthanasia so popular?

Why is euthanasia gaining ground in so many places? Margaret Somerville, one of Canada's leading ethicists, has written a brilliant exposition on this subject here. She writes:
Many countries are now experiencing an unprecedented rise in calls to legalise euthanasia - some of which from within the medical profession. ...The burden of proof has somehow shifted from those who promote legalisation to those who oppose it.
Somerville discusses several causes of this major shift in attitudes. Here are a few of her gems, which hit the nail right on the head:
Euthanasia moves us from chance to choice concerning death....Although we cannot make death optional, we can create an illusion that it is by making its timing and the conditions and ways in which it occurs a matter of choice.
...our society is highly materialistic and consumeristic. It has lost any sense of the sacred, even just of the "secular sacred." The result favours a pro-euthanasia position, because a loss of the sacred fosters the idea that worn-out people may be equated with worn-out products; both can then be seen primarily as "disposal" problems.
...Our society is very intolerant of mystery. We convert mysteries into problems. If we convert the mystery of death into the problem of death, euthanasia (or, even more basically, a lethal injection) can be seen as a solution. 
She also perfectly ties in euthanasia to other issues in our society, such as the explosive popularity of reproductive technologies. In fact, she sees euthanasia as anther expression of the desire to control human life that is evident in the use of such technologies. She says:
Among the most important causes of our loss of the sacred is extraordinary scientific progress, especially insofar as science and religion are viewed as antithetical. New genetic discoveries and new reproductive technologies have given us a sense that we understand the origin and nature of human life and that, because we can, we may manipulate - or even "create" - life.  
Transferring these sentiments to the other end of life would support the view that euthanasia is acceptable. Euthanasia would be seen as a correlative and consistent development with the new genetics; its acceptance, therefore, would be expected. According to this view, it is no accident that we are currently concerned with both eu-genics (good genetics: good at birth) and eu-thanasia (good death. 
How will legal euthanasia affect the medical profession?

In a nutshell: “Euthanasia...places the soul of medicine itself on trial.

It's clear that euthanasia is, above all else, a huge game-changer for doctors as a complete reversal of their respect for human life, a respect that has for centuries been considered foundational to the practice of good medicine. Here is what Somerville says:
...There are very few institutions, if any, with which everyone identifies except for those - such as medicine - that make up the health-care system. These, therefore, are important when it comes to carrying values, creating them, and forming consensus around them. 
...A fundamental attitude we reinforce in medical students, interns and residents is a repugnance toward the idea of killing patients. If physicians were authorised to administer euthanasia, it would no longer be possible to instil that repugnance. 

...We, as a society, need to say powerfully, consistently and unambiguously, that killing each other is wrong. And physicians are very important carriers of this message, partly because they have opportunities (not available to members of society in general) to kill people.
We do not yet know where this dangerous social experiment will leave our doctors, but Somerville offers a preview. She discusses how euthanasia continues the process of dehumanizing our doctors by dulling their respect for human life - a process that started with abortion:
 ...Moreover, we cannot afford to underestimate the desensitisation and brutalization that carrying out euthanasia would have on physicians. Keep in mind that the same might be true of abortion. ...In short, one problem with the position of those who promote abortion on demand is that it threatens to continue undermining the link between medicine and respect for life.
Euthanasia takes abortion a few steps further

Somerville explains how euthanasia is a further step beyond abortion on the continuum of disregard for the value of human life. This might seem surprising to those who consider abortion as the ultimate disregard for human life.

And yet, Somerville makes perfect sense. She explains how the reality of abortion is hidden in language that allows us, as a society, to believe that we are not killing a human person. Instead, we focus on the way that abortion "saves" the life of the mother or how it is a necessary way for her to "control" her body. As such, we try to appeal to the same justifications that have traditionally been used for "self-defence, just war and, in theory and in part, capital punishment". We also call the baby a "fetus" or a "product of conception" to dehumanize it.

Euthanasia, on the other hand, is the first instance where we are permitting the open and deliberate killing of unambiguously human persons. It is killing with all the veils lifted, cold and clear as day.
...It is sometimes pointed out that many societies do justify one form of killing by physicians: abortion. [But] This was justified, traditionally, on the grounds that it was necessary to save the life of the mother [or] attention is focused on the woman's right to control her body....Indeed, when destroying the foetus is the primary aim - as it is in sex selection - even those who agree with abortion on demand often regard it as morally unacceptable. ...once we view the foetus as a "person," we do not find killing it acceptable.

...Consequently, legalised euthanasia would be unique in that the killing involved could not be justified on the grounds either that it is necessary to protect the life of another ...or that it does not involve taking the life of a person... Euthanasia would seem likely to affect physicians' attitudes and values, therefore, in ways that, arguably, abortion does not.
Not Welcome In Her Own Land

Margaret Somerville teaches at McGill University in Montreal, right in the heart of Quebec. It is a real shame that her words have fallen on stony ground in her own province.

Against reason and against prudence, Quebec has legalized euthanasia anyway, launching a treacherous experiment that may have irreversible consequences. 

Photo: hitthatswitch via photopin cc

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