Primum Non Nocere – First Do No Harm

Guest Post by Dr. P.H. Ling, FRCS

Doctor assisted suicide is not health care; it is the premeditated and deliberate taking of a human life, no matter what euphemisms have been fabricated to assuage those who are tempted to believe, perversely, and generally without guile or malicious intent, that it somehow demonstrates respect for human life.

So far, much of the public awareness has centred on the rights (or even perceived obligations) of individual physicians to provide medically induced death, but more recently, hospitals and other health care institutions have exercised their right, on grounds of conscientious objection, to opt out of being forced to participate in such irrevocable acts. These rights of conscience are fully guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and there is rightly nothing ambiguous in the wording of the Charter.

“These rights of conscience are fully guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”

If much of the mainstream media were to be believed, most or all criticism of such institutions has implied that only Christian hospitals have been the obstructers. Yet, just prior to the federal passage of Bill C-14 (the “right to die” legislation passed by the current government), the Canadian Medical Association revealed that only 20 percent of all doctors, at most, would be willing to administer death to their patients, and that over twice as many – 42 percent – would actively refuse to do so.1,2 With 80 percent of doctors being unwilling, it is clear that the doctors’ collective reluctance to participate in the deliberate deprivation of human life extends beyond any one religious group.

“The Canadian Medical Association revealed that only 20 percent of all doctors, at most, would be willing to administer death to their patients, and that over twice as many – 42 percent – would actively refuse to do so.”

The authorities’ vague promises of safeguards are not reflected in the improvised, chaotic manner by which these new steps have been implemented. In Ontario, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, speaking on behalf the provincial government, has in fact expressed uncertainty over how to deal with hospitals that exert their right to eschew participation in medically assisted suicide.3 Even supporters of medically assisted suicide have expressed surprise that far more Canadians who have had their lives taken in this manner, did so within hospitals, rather than at home, as they had wrongly predicted.4 It is within this misread context of ad hoc erroneous assumptions that the said death legislation has been rushed through, so that people in a precarious and delicate state of mind can endure “death with dignity” – an abstract construct whose validity has yet to be affirmed by anyone subjected to this one-way journey.4

A growing number of seniors’ care homes, many without religious affiliation, have also objected to being pressured to participate in medical euthanasia, and surely the elderly are most at risk for coercive manipulations of this kind.5

elderly women and younger woman holding hands

Strangely enough, while the same federal Canadian legislation that opens the way to unclear parameters for the legal application of medical homicide protects participating health care workers from prosecution, it leaves a gap in the protection of health professionals who abstain on grounds of conscientious objection.6

In Canada, it is justly possible to express one’s moral and legal right, as a conscientious objector, not to participate in the slaughter of war. We have a moral duty to protect those who have sworn, in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath, that they will protect life and firstly do no harm. Ultimately, the human conscience cannot be suppressed, and our health care facilities’ moral stand is a collective manifestation of this refutation.

For more information on the campaign for doctors’ conscience rights in Ontario, visit www.canadiansforconscience.ca

References

  1. A Canadian Approach to Assisted Dying: CMA Member Dialogue Summary Report, 2016.
  2. Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Poll, as cited in Postmedia News (canada.com), Feb 8, 2013.
  3. CityNews (Toronto), April 14, 2016.
  4. Most of the Assisted Deaths in Ottawa Have Been in Hospitals. Ottawa Citizen, January 10, 2017.
  5. St Paul’s Hospital Among 12 Facilities Objecting to Assisted Dying. Saskatoon Starphoenix, December 7, 2016.
  6. Doctor-assisted Dying Bill Restricted to Adults Facing “Foreseeable” Death. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News, April 14, 2016.