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Family of elderly Canadian woman says doctors tried to pressure her into euthanasia

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A Canadian couple is speaking out about how their elderly family member was pressured to be euthanized while battling cancer. Joan Rohoway, 84, was receiving care through the Fraser Health Authority in Canada, but her daughter and son-in-law say doctors coerced her into agreeing to be euthanized instead.

In May, Rohoway was a patient in the cancer and palliative-care wards at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Alain Seguin, Rohoway’s son-in-law, told the B.C. Catholic she was visited by an oncologist while she was heavily medicated to discuss the Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) program in Canada. Seguin alleges that the doctor waited until she was alone and vulnerable to bring up the controversial topic. Rohoway’s daughter, Pamela, said that when Rohoway asked what her treatment options were, the doctor told her there were none, and to consider euthanasia instead. The doctor then said Rohoway agreed to die.

“I was aghast, I was angry,” Alain said of Rohoway agreeing to be euthanized. “It was done so underhandedly. To me, [the subterfuge] was intentional. The way they handled it was poor, where the doctor went ahead and put the idea in my mother-in-law’s head.” According to Alain, their family is staunchly pro-life and opposes any manner of taking life — from abortion to capital punishment. “I was raised a Catholic and was raised to believe you’re given life by God,” he said. “And the only person who has the right to take that life is God.”

READ: Pushback in Ireland over euthanasia bill: ‘This isn’t a gentle, peaceful death’

After Alain and Pamela complained, a nurse and social worker said Rohoway had requested euthanasia three times. Even after Rohoway’s family brought her home for palliative care, the declaration remained. But when two FHA health care workers visited, Pamela said she and Alain were threatened that if they continued to oppose Rohoway’s euthanization, FHA would file to obtain legal guardianship of Rohoway.

Finally, two new workers arrived, who asked Rohoway if she wanted to die. “She said, ‘Absolutely not, I want to stay here,’” Pamela recalled. “The two then said, ‘OK.’” The damage, however, has been done. “[T]he level of trust we have with Fraser Health is about zero,” Alain said, as Pamela added, “They are just writing her off.”

As the B.C. Catholic reported, “Fraser Health’s official policy on medical assistance in dying (MAiD) is that it is supposed to be an ‘entirely patient-driven’ process. Yet the evidence, such as that of the case of Joan Rohoway, suggests doctors can and do lead euthanasia-related discussions.”

Canada has been rapidly expanding its MAiD program in recent years, even as vulnerable groups fight against it. And Rohoway is far from the first person to allege being pressured into euthanasia; Roger Foley likewise said he was denied basic health care and threatened with euthanasia if he continued to stay in the hospital. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, a lawyer from Costa Rica and the United Nation’s first Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, likewise found multiple instances of people with disabilities who were pressured into euthanasia.

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