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Can Fam Physician. 2010 June; 56(6): 526–527.
PMCID: PMC2902935

We can do better than euthanasia—we must

René A. Leiva, MDCM CCFP

Dr Boisvert is wrong.1 Doctors should not be open to euthanasia and assisted suicide as solutions to our patients’ suffering.

Behind the fears of existential suffering or becoming a burden to loved ones or feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, there is a call for help to find meaning even in the midst of such suffering.

When death becomes the answer, we as human beings have lost the opportunity to go beyond our limitations, try harder, and offer hope to these people. Agreeing with assisted suicide is an affirmation that, depending on the circumstances, some lives are not worth living and need to be terminated. At a recent American Psychosocial Oncology Society conference, researchers presented evidence that medical personnel were among some of the most important sources of hope for patients. Mother Teresa used to say that “the feeling of unwantedness, especially from those who are supposed to love and care about us, is the worst threat to our human dignity.”2

Amid these overwhelming fears, a free, autonomous decision about euthanasia is an illusion. The troubles of human relationships within families become accentuated, and problems of physician error and abuse in an already stressed medical system abound. It would be difficult to ensure that the choice of suicide is freely made and adequately informed.

Eventually, society will not be able to defend the most vulnerable from abuse, and doctors will become death dealers instead of healers. Despite Dr Boisvert’s assertions to the contrary, countries where euthanasia is legal have suffered from it. Els Borst-Eilers, who served as Health Minister for the Netherlands from 1994 to 2002 and who is a doctor herself, proposed the country’s infamous euthanasia bill. Now, however, she thinks the government acted too soon, to the detriment of palliative care.3 Even the United Nations Human Rights Committee is concerned by the extent of euthanasia and assisted suicides in the Netherlands: a physician can terminate a patient’s life without any independent review by a judge or magistrate to guarantee that the decision was not the subject of undue influence or misapprehension, second opinions can be obtained from a telephone hot-line, and there is no prior judicial review of physicians’ decisions to terminate patients’ lives in circumstances in which the patients are not able to make the request themselves.4

Euthanasia takes us in the wrong direction. It distorts patient-doctor relationships, leaves physicians off the hook too easily in challenging situations, violates health professionals’ moral autonomy, and dehumanizes physicians as they become executioners. We can do better than euthanasia—we must.

References

1. Boisvert M. Should physicians be open to euthanasia? Yes. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56:320, 322, 342, 326. (Eng), (Fr). [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Langford J. Mother Teresa’s secret fire. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor; 2008.
3. Caldwell S. Now the Dutch turn against legalised mercy killing. Daily Mail. 2009. Dec 9, Available from: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1234295/Now-Dutch-turn-legalised-mercy-killing.html#ixzz0lj4ZGChX. Accessed 2010 May 11.
4. Human Rights Committee . New York, NY: United Nations; 2009. Jul 31, Human Rights Committee concludes ninety-sixth session [news release] Available from: www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/0/1E96D3DB91309495C12576040053E5DE?opendocument. Accessed 2010 May 7.

Articles from Canadian Family Physician are provided here courtesy of College of Family Physicians of Canada