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Droves of Canadian doctors opting out of euthanasia

Dozens of Canadian doctors who signed up to provide lethal injections have changed their minds, according to medical officials.

At least 24 doctors in Ontario have asked to be removed from a list of physicians willing to participate in Canada’s Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law, passed in June. Some 30 more have requested their names be put on hold.

Jeff Blackmer, vice president of the Canadian Medical Association, said some doctors initially think they are helping patients end their suffering but find the reality much different.

“We’re seeing doctors who go through one experience and it’s just overwhelming, it’s too difficult,” he said. “And those are the ones who say, ‘Take my name off the list. I can’t do it anymore.’”

Ontario, one of the only provinces so far to track the data, currently has a list of 137 doctors willing to participate in assisted suicide. Of those, 107 are willing to administer a lethal injection or prescribe lethal drugs. The other 30 chose only to assess patients for eligibility.

The doctor opt-outs follow a similar decision by several Canadian hospitals that announced last year they would not participate in the program because of their religious convictions.

To be eligible for assisted suicide in Canada, a patient must have a “grievous and irremediable” illness, be physically or psychologically suffering, and have a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death.

Lawyers recommend doctors use a six-month rule when planning a patient’s death, but the law still leaves a lot of gray area for eligibility.

“That confusion causes great anxiety for physicians, and many just pull back,” said Jonathan Reggler, a doctor on Vancouver Island. “If the doctor doesn’t carry out the medically assisted death according to the law, that doctor is at risk of being prosecuted for murder.”

Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said doctors withdrawing from the assisted suicide program is no surprise.

“It’s counter-intuitive to the human person to kill someone,” he said.

Even doctors with no ethical problem with euthanasia have a hard time actually watching someone die following a lethal injection they administer, he said. Those who don’t struggle with conscience qualms will become “euthanasia experts.”

“What I predict will happen is there will only be a few doctors in Ontario doing this euthanasia, or in Canada doing it, and all the other doctors will be forced to refer patients to them,” he said. “And it doesn’t take a lot of doctors to kill people.”

— by Samantha Gobba

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