Canada legalized euthanasia in June 2016, declaring assisted suicide a humane way to end the suffering of already dying patients. Opponents warned it wouldn’t be a far jump from legalizing euthanasia to manipulating patients into believing they have an obligation to die and stop draining medical system resources.
Eight months later, researchers at the University of Calgary have released a study extolling assisted suicide’s cost benefits: “If Canadians adopt medical assistance in dying in a manner and extent similar to those of the Netherlands and Belgium, we can expect a reduction in healthcare spending in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year.”
The authors of the study denied any suggestion cost should factor into end-of life-decisions, despite the obvious connection.
“We are not suggesting medical assistance in dying as a measure to cut costs,” they wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
But critics note the utilitarian view of euthanasia, that it can benefit the general public, gives society a stake in the death of vulnerable people.
“I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than that,” said Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant for the Patients Rights Council.
Bioethicists already link the medical cost savings of euthanasia with organ harvesting. A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics suggested euthanasia in Canada has the potential to provide organs for transplantation. The article even suggested it would be acceptable if the organ harvest was the cause of death, Smith noted in National Review.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, people who choose euthanasia because of disability or mental illness are being targeted as potential organ donors, Smith said. Such thinking exploits vulnerable people worried about being a burden and losing their dignity.
“This is not just a cold issue of choice, this involves deep emotions, this involves deep fear,” Smith said.
Canada’s laws legalize medical aid in dying for any seriously ill or disabled adult whose condition is incurable and who is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability. Doctors must determine no alternatives acceptable to the patient can relieve the suffering and the patient has to believe the physical or psychological suffering is intolerable. The patient’s natural death needs to be “reasonably foreseeable” but the law does not require a prognosis specifying the time period within which death is expected.
Smith isn’t certain the United States will follow the euthanasia prescription of its Northern neighbor. So far, five states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, which allows a doctor to provide the means for death, usually prescription medication, but the patient must administer it. Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying law takes physician-assisted suicide a step further and allows practitioners to administer the means of death for patients who have requested it but are physically unable to do it themselves.
“At least in the United States we still don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Smith said. “Assisted suicide advocates are far less candid in the United States than they are elsewhere precisely because the United States is still up for grabs on this issue.”
— by Julie Borg