Debunking the National Post on assisted dying

Ignoring the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision and the overwhelming majority opinion in Canada, today’s National Post View uses long debunked arguments to once again claim that legalizing assisted dying will result in a “slippery slope” to utter moral bankruptcy (or something like that, they don't actually say). Here I debunk those claims, one by one.

A great deal of research and reporting on those jurisdictions that permit euthanasia and/or assisted suicide suggest that the words “slippery slope” are more than mere alarmism, as proponents of euthanasia tend to insist.

Reality: This is utter nonsense. The National Post only cites one study (dealt with later) to support its argument. One of the largest reviews of assisted dying laws concludes: “Where assisted dying is already legal, there is no current evidence for the claim that legalised [physician assisted dying] or euthanasia will have disproportionate impact on patients in vulnerable groups.”

When Canada’s abortion laws were abolished by the Supreme Court almost thirty years ago, anti-choicers then claimed we’d fall down a slippery slope but that’s still yet to happen. Can we just disregard any article that falls back on the slippery slope myth from now on?

In every state or country in which the practice has been normalized, it has also, to some degree, become banalized, with eligibility criteria increasingly relaxed… Supposed safeguards also decline in frequency.

Reality: First, we really must speak more about death more, not less. So anything that normalizes talking about end of life options should be a plus. Second, I support relaxing eligibility criteria. There is no moral argument to overly restrict the right to a dignified death to only a small subset of people. Suicide is not illegal in Canada, so any freely consenting adult should have access to a peaceful death. In any case, the National Post gives absolutely no evidence for that eligibility criteria or safeguards are being relaxed, so their argument is moot.

But, as Dr. William L. Toffler, national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care, points out in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “some doctors [in Oregon] see suicide as a solution to suffering and depression as rational given patients’ circumstances.”

Reality: Dr Toffler is one guy from an organization that's ideologically opposed to physician assisted dying. Why should we take what he says other doctors are saying seriously? Even if I were to listen to him, does the National Post think that some people suffering from depression aren’t actually suffering? Maybe we should leave it up to an individual and their doctor to decide what suffering is “intolerable.”

only three of the 105 patients who died under the [Oregon] law in 2014 were referred for a psychological exam

Reality: Again, I don't see the point. Physicians are entirely capable of judging competency and a second physician is required to confirm the diagnosis. The idea that every patient should be forced to undergo a psychological exam is demeaning and patronizing.

A 2008 study examining Oregonians who sought information on assisted suicide, published in the British Medical Journal, concluded that Oregon’s law “may not adequately protect all mentally ill patients.”

Reality: Only 28% of people agreed to take part in this study, which involved only 58 people. Safeguards should be developed and reviewed regularly but the National Post would rather remain in the absolutist territory where that discussion can't happen. It also seems content to completely ignore the other population of vulnerable people – those who are suffering.

We would argue that every Canadian who needs it has a right to palliative care and a hospice bed if it is needed for a good death.

Reality: Really? Has the National Post ever actually advocated for palliative care funding? The evidence is clear that choice in dying goes hand in hand with palliative care. For example, investment in palliative care in the Netherlands took off after legalizing assisted dying and it's a mandated part of Quebec's new regime.

But there is no inherent right to demand the state end your life for you, whatever the Supreme Court’s efforts to discern one in the Constitution’s invisible ink.

Reality: Where does the National Post think rights come from? They aren’t magical entities that exist outside of people and society. There’s no inherent right to free speech, only our collective agreement codified in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That’s the same written (as in, not "invisible ink") Charter that the Supreme Court of Canada used to decide that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide violated our guaranteed rights. The justices correctly surmised that since suicide is legal in Canada, banning assistance discriminates against the disabled and forces people to more drastic measures. So the right to having assistance to end your life does exist in Canada.

Polls and surveys indicating rising support for end-of-life autonomy seem to reinforce the inevitability of a societal shift.

Reality: This might be the only true statement in the entire editorial. Eighty-four per cent of Canadians support assisted dying laws.

But that [support for end-of-life autonomy] is because people are judging hypothetical, abstract scenarios, and because the options are presented in stark terms of “compassion” on the one hand and the prolongation of intolerable suffering on the other, a false choice.

Reality: Based on what? If anything, with our aging population, more people are coming face to face with a long and painful death of a family member or loved one. People come to support dying with dignity for many reasons, there's no evidence that it's for trivial reasons (and so what if they are?).

Many people are not aware that very ill patients are already empowered to reject further medical treatment, and already have the right to a medicalized twilight state in the late stages of terminal disease, which hastens the dying process.

Reality: Rejecting treatment is not equivalent to a hastened death and can result in a long, drawn-out process of literally starving to death or dying from dehydration. There is nothing dignified about that. Further, inducing a “medicalized twilight state” requires doctors to skirt the law, and not all will consider doing so. We need a legal, regulated system with clear rules and rights to a dignified death for those who choose it.


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