Guest Columnist: Dignity, not euthanasia

Barry Van Dusen

I read Wendy Cornelis’ column, “My life, my death, my choice” with interest. However the issue of physician-assisted death is not as simple as she would have us believe.

She states that countries like Holland that allow euthanasia “have not experienced the ‘slippery slope’ naysayers predicted.” They have. In the February 1996 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr. R. G. Twycross, a professor at Oxford University wrote, “to claim there is no likelihood of a slippery slope effect in relation to euthanasia can justifiably be described as a fantasy.” He then made reference to a 1991 Dutch government study, the “Remmelink Report,” in which the practice of involuntary euthanasia by doctors was noted.

The report also indicated that despite guidelines to protect patients abuse was common. Since 1991 the situation has not improved. What was designed to end the suffering of those with “unbearable pain” has widened over the years to where the elderly not wanting to be a “burden” to their families, or those caring for the physically or mentally handicapped, can now seek physician-assisted death.

Belief in the sacredness of life is a cornerstone of society, informing even a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath, “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.”

One of my great concerns with the legalizing of physician assisted death is that what will wind its way into society is the belief that it’s better to be dead than sick or disabled – that some lives are just not worth living anymore.

Those of us who see humans as having dignity and worth, just because they are human, believe that respect for life requires that we do not intentionally kill another human being, or help them to kill themselves, which means that physician assisted death must not be allowed.

Instead, I would like to see excellent palliative care provided either at home, if possible, or in hospices. I would like to see pain relief protocols taught in our medical and nursing schools allowing for the latest medicines and treatments to be used.

I would like to see a society where the disabled, the lonely and the aging know that they will be treated with dignity and compassion, just as they are, and that everything will be done to alleviate their suffering or loneliness.

Let’s first create a truly compassionate society and then let’s discuss the need, if any, for physician assisted death.

 Rev. Barry Van Dusen is the minister of St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Sarnia, and past convenor of the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Justice Ministries Advisory Committee.