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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

A Government Department of Euthanasia? Please, No

[This is another re-posting of a column earlier posted on the “Context with Lorna Dueck” website, for which I write weekly]


“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

My late father, a surgeon, used to make this droll remark in a nicely deadpan way. He had not generally had positive experiences in dealing with politicians, bureaucrats, and clerks. More particularly, Dad had trained in Britain’s National Health Service and acquired a jaundiced view, so to speak, of government involvement in medicine.

I’ve had better experiences, for the most part. Nonetheless, I have a pretty strong sense of the limits of what the state can do, and also of what the state is normally willing to do. Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has granted all of us a right I didn’t know we were supposed to have—to take our own lives, with trained medical assistance if necessary—I’m concerned once more about what Canadian government-sponsored health care will and won’t do.

Under the tremendous financial constraints it is under, our health-care system constantly makes decisions that make the news: patients having to sleep in hallways, ER supplicants waiting hours to be examined, and recovering patients hurried home as “discharge planning” becomes a combination of social work, physiotherapy, and cost-cutting.

It is this system—not some new one that will magically arise in some other context, but this one—that we will be trusting to make a good and all-too-final decision about who ought to be free to end his or her life.

I oppose capital punishment for several reasons, and one of the main ones is this: Our legal system is simply not capable of rendering decisions so accurate that no innocent person will be executed. I oppose physician-assisted suicide now for the same reason.

Everything that euthanasia advocates are saying about protections and limitations and scrutiny and safeguards has been said before in European jurisdictions. And study after study shows that more and more kinds of people are being killed there, including the merely depressed.

Our Canadian state does not have a shining record of providing adequate care for the mentally ill. Our shuffling homeless people in every city are only the tip of the iceberg.

Our Canadian state does not have a shining record of providing adequate care for the dying. Hospice care is available to less than a third of us, coast to coast to coast.

Many families no longer feel the social obligation to care for their parents until death. It has increasingly become the government’s job. And the state will do its best, but that’s only the best that a state can do.

And Canadian governments—national, provincial, and municipal—are under relentless pressure to save money and lower taxes. So how do we really think this is going to play out? If euthanasia is kept off the table as a “treatment option,” there is a stronger incentive to do what it takes to provide palliative care for all. If assisted suicide becomes a “treatment option,” the incentive to use it can only increase.

One more thing: What will this huge change do to our relationships with health care professionals and the health care system, since the power of death will be put in their hands?

My dad had another funny line, which he offered with admirable self-deprecation, “You can trust me: I’m a doctor.”

But that’s not supposed to be funny, and if euthanasia becomes the law of the land, it will become grimly unfunny indeed.


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