Assisted suicide has not been legal in Canada for long. In 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled to overturn the country’s ban on assisted suicide, reversing a 1993 court decision ruling that the state had a greater obligation to “protect the vulnerable” than to an individual’s right to self determination. The ruling officially went into effect in 2016. Initially, only 167 people were euthanized. But the number of people electing to kill themselves has drastically risen.
In the first six months of 2017, 875 people underwent assisted suicide. But in the second half of the year, deaths increased by almost 30 percent, with 1,525 euthanized. Most of these people were elderly, and had cancer. In total, 3,714 people have died by assisted suicide since it was legalized in Canada.
Yet, Canadian officials are actually bemoaning how low these numbers are, expressing concern that there aren’t enough doctors willing to participate. “It is difficult for some of the patients to get access and it can take a longer period of time for our patients in more remote communities to have access to this service,” said Dr. Paul Babyn, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s physician executive for provincial programs. “They generally can’t travel well so the physician and appropriate assessment team must come to the patient and that can take time to organize.”
Bryan Salte, associate registrar and legal counsel for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, agreed. “That is one of the very real concerns right now,” he said. “What number of physicians are prepared to participate in this because it is not ideal for anybody to take a physician from Saskatoon and have them drive for four hours in order to do the assessments and perhaps come back later.”
It is chilling to read these statements with the realization that the “service” to which these physicians are referring is actually hastened death.
Though it is said that there are strict safeguards to prevent abuse, there are still concerning developments taking place. Quebec, for example, is considering allowing people with Alzheimer’s to be euthanized, without their consent. Doctors have pressured parents to euthanize their disabled children. A study is taking place to determine if people with mental illnesses should qualify for euthanasia. The euthanasia of children is under consideration. Doctors are even claiming that they are being forced to participate in assisted suicide.
Americans must look to our brothers in Canada and Europe when considering the legalization of assisted suicide. The idea of so-called “death with dignity” for those who are suffering may seem attractive — but it is never that simple, and once legal, assisted suicide always becomes something much more sinister than helping the already-dying pass peacefully. And the reality is, just because someone is elderly, ill, or disabled, it doesn’t mean that their life has somehow become not worth living.
We do all we can to prevent suicide in healthy people; people who are the most vulnerable among us deserve that same protection, not a prescription for death.