By Dr. Brett Salkeld
The current campaign of the Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience which has been taking place to encourage the government of Saskatchewan to enact legislation to protect health care professionals in our province from having to participate in euthanasia/assisted suicide provides an opportunity for clarification about some the terms involved. The letter being provided for those who wish to support this campaign to sign has been distributed through both our schools and parishes.
In both contexts, questions have been raised about the appropriateness of the term “euthanasia/assisted suicide.” Some people have objected that these two terms are being falsely equated. Others have suggested that what is now legal in Canada is neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide but rather, as the government of Canada prefers to call it, Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). Let us take these two issues in order.
First of all, while euthanasia and assisted suicide can be carefully and helpfully distinguished, that distinction is without relevance for the purposes of this letter and campaign. Strictly speaking, euthanasia is when the doctor or other healthcare provider administers a drug (or other “treatment”) with the intent of ending the life of a patient. As such, the term “euthanasia” does not accurately describe cases of assisted suicide where, e.g., the patient is provided with a prescription for a life-ending drug and then administers the drug to him or herself. The current legislation in Canada allows for both kinds of practices. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of cases in Canada (more than 99%) have, to date, been euthanasia.
Secondly, while the government of Canada has chosen to designate the practice of euthanasia/assisted suicide in Canada with the novel acronym MAiD, that term has no legal, medical, or philosophical history. Furthermore, it seems a deliberate attempt to fudge the line between offering medical care to dying patients (including practices such as refusing or discontinuing burdensome treatments, and pain/symptom management that allows for a peaceful death even when it may foreseeably, though not intentionally, shorten life), which has always been legal in Canada, and the active ending of a patient’s life, which is accurately described as euthanasia/assisted suicide. A choice to use the government’s preferred term – instead of the accurate legal, medical and philosophical terms – in this case would have been to contribute to the confusion that term has introduced into this discussion.
A final note. Some have suggested that this campaign is based on misinformation about the state of the rights of health care workers in Saskatchewan, suggesting that sufficient protection is already afforded them. It is worth noting, in this regard, that when similar legislation was being debated in the Manitoba legislature, it was the position of the official opposition not that such legislation was bad, but that it was unnecessary for precisely this reason.
Before that debate occurred in Manitoba, however, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons had passed a motion requiring physicians to refer for euthanasia/assisted suicide even against conscience. This highlighted how, because of the division of powers in the Canadian constitution, specifically provincial legislation to protect healthcare workers is actually quite necessary, especially if provincial professional bodies do not respect the conscience rights of their members. After a successful letter campaign, like the one in which we are currently engaged, the opposition changed its position and the conscience legislation was passed unanimously.
The letter of the Coalition for Healthcare and Conscience is both accurate and necessary and the Catholic Bishops of Saskatchewan rightly support its distribution in both our parishes and our schools.
Sign the letter online here.
Get a printable version of the letter here.
Page URL: http://archregina.sk.ca/news/2019/03/21/understanding-terms-call-conscience-campaign-health-care-workers