Bill C-7 does a disservice to all those who came before us

Dear Editor,

We have just finished commemorating 102 years since the signing of the armistice of 1918, and 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands, in which Canadian forces played a critical role. Canada and its Allies were fighting against a murderous utilitarian ideology that only cared for people groups if they were convenient, able-bodied and useful. In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s the Nazi regime in Germany legally changed the laws of their country to permit euthanasia for certain groups, and later required it for others, particularly those with disabilities.

As documented by Robert J. Lifton in “The Nazi Doctors,” the early 20th century in Germany saw the emergence in medicine of the attitude that certain lives were not worth living, lebesunwertes Leben. This led to forced sterilizations and eventually to direct medical killing and later genocide, all under the supervision of the state and physicians. The medical establishment in Germany was co-opted and influenced to provide the final solution to those who were not desired. “At its heart is the transformation of the physician - of the medical enterprise itself - from healer to killer.” Unfortunately, “the overarching Nazi principle [the doctors] epitomized - the principle of killing to heal - has continued to reverberate” as “people can all too readily be socialized to killing (Lifton, 2017).” Canada and her Allies were right to oppose and fight against this horrendous evil. The sacrifice was incredible but the alternative unthinkable.

Out of the ashes of WWII arose the UN, the World Medical Association, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone should have access to “medical care and necessary social services.” We know Canada is still lacking in this department. Furthermore, effective palliative care is available to less than 70% of the population. COVID has tragically exposed the shortcomings such that many do not have “the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack.” As documented in this December Macleans magazine, some are even considering euthanasia only because they cannot afford to live during COVID times. And just last week a senior in BC went through with euthanasia so as to avoid another lockdown. Should our response not be to offer better income support and other assistance in living rather than making assisted dying easier?

Bill C-7, the proposed update to the medical assistance in dying (MAID) law, removes safeguards such as “reasonably foreseeable death” and the 10-day waiting period. It puts those who are vulnerable and disabled at increased risk of despair and wrongful death. The only aid that becomes readily available is aid to die. Rather, the focus and funding should be on promoting “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing” of all people regardless of age, gender, race, disability or ability.

Many Canadians lost their lives fighting against the Nazi regime that promoted euthanasia and assisted suicide. Seventy five years later, Canada is now primed to follow in Germany’s legal footsteps. Were the lives lost in WWII lost in vain?

Recently, the World Medical Association, which started after the horrors of WWII, released an updated declaration regarding euthanasia and physician assisted suicide: “The WMA reiterates its strong commitment to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life. Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.”

The current MAID law has made Canada an outlier in the world medical community. Indeed, the Canadian Medical Association withdrew from the WMA to avoid it’s oversight. Bill C-7 accentuates this outlier status, giving us the most permissive euthanasia regime in the world. We expect our physicians to be healers. When the state and physicians are no longer dedicated to life, but participate in directly ending the lives of patients, the real victim is our society and country as we know it. Canada is no longer the true north, strong and free that so many gave their lives for sacrificially in feats of courage, valour and honour 75 years ago. With Bill C-7, Canada gives in to a mentality that judges whether another’s quality of life is good enough to receive suicide prevention or suicide assistance.

For health care professions to avoid falling completely into role conflation and deliberate wounding, and society implicitly deciding which lives are unworthy of life, the safeguards currently in place for MAID must remain and be reinforced. Conscience protections should be added for those who want no involvement with deliberate ending of patient lives. Any changes should require that patients not simply be informed of other options, but actually legitimately try them - in so doing, many lives could be saved. Palliative care needs to be strongly supported, but also recognized as completely distinct from MAID.

In short, Bill C-7 does a disservice to all those who came before us and fought for our freedoms. Bill C-7 should be re-written to truly support assisted living for all, and not just focus on assisted suicide for a few.

Dr Luke Savage

Three Hills, AB