Abla Tsolu M.A (First from Right) is a former member of the McMaster Conservatives, and currently serves on the Conservative Party Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale executive board .
Is Euthanasia achieving the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health?
Life is precious and fragile and it cannot be taken for granted. In many developing nations, access to quality healthcare and the basic necessities of life is but a dream. For many decades, research and advanced medicine in most western societies have drawn humanity closer to recognize the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. People living in western societies today have a higher probability than people in developing nations to access advanced medical treatments and hence a better chance of survival and prolonged life. In these societies, there are questions relating to whether anyone has the right to end life through the withdrawal of medical treatment. “Euthanasia, the deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person in order to relieve that person’s suffering”1 is not a new term.
There has been much discussion about the impact of legalization of euthanasia in many societies today. Some societies have embraced euthanasia as an act of preventing suffering when the quality of life of a person is anything but hopeful. While euthanasia is condoned by some societies, it is a serious cause of concern for others. In all of these places, governments and physicians have played a significant role in implementing the program. This article draws a parallel between euthanasia and the Nazi Regime and Apartheid, parties involved and its intentions, and the reasons why such intentions should be carefully reviewed in determining the obligations of States and individuals in achieving “the right of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health”2.
Euthanasia Yesterday and Euthanasia Today
Euthanasia was a cleansing program preceding concentration camps in Germany. Hitler wanted a perfect race, a race without disabilities, deformities, without colour or blemish, without the weak and the old. Hitler called upon physicians not only to help justify his racial hatred policies with a scientific rationale (racial hygiene), but also to direct his euthanasia programs and ultimately the Nazi death camps3. Euthanasia was a program instituted by the Nazi regime, a program led by medical professionals who supervised and implemented acts of mercy killing4. Such acts of the Nazi regime were seen as repressive acts of violence towards humanity. In South
Africa, “government policies under the Apartheid were based on indignity and dehumanization.
Health professionals during the Apartheid, failed to document evidence of torture. They also
breached principles of confidentiality and provided discriminatory health care services. These
professionals through the acts of a commission and omission facilitated legitimized debasement
of humanity”5. Perhaps, we should ask ourselves why euthanasia is now acceptable in some
societies today and considered by these societies as medical treatment although frowned upon
during the Nazi regime or the Apartheid? The motives behind the Nazi regime and the Apartheid
were imposed; its intent was to dehumanize and alienate, and it was not consensual.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide is legalized in the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Oregon and Washington6. In all of these places, governments and physicians have played a significant role in implementing the program. In the Netherlands, “euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide” are allowed, provided that a physician performs the act while adhering to specific requirements7. In Belgium, Dutch speaking physicians played a significant role in the end-of-life decision made at the national level. “In 30% of all Australian deaths, a medical end-of-life decision was made with the explicit intention of ending the patient’s life”8. In other instances, euthanasia has also been linked to capital punishment through the execution of criminals on death row by lethal injection. The first lethal injection execution was by Dr. Ralph Gray, medical director of the Texas Department of Corrections. Dr. Gray examined Charlie Brooks’ arms and supervised technicians who administered the injection. It was concluded that Dr. Gray did nothing wrong or unethical9. The intent of euthanasia or physician assisted suicide today is about reducing suffering; a choice made by the person, or loved ones.
Will Euthanasia be beneficial for Canada?
The right to health involves “the right to be free of interference, from torture, non-consensual treatment and experimentation”10. The right to health must be understood as the right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities, goods, services and conditions necessary for the realization of the highest attainable standard of health11. This definition may justify why euthanasia could possibility help bring about the right to the highest attainable standard of care because it is consensual and non-torturous. However, euthanasia today could be equated to suicide, murder or capital punishment, as there is the intent to kill, or to end one’s own life. Suicide is defined as “an act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily or involuntarily”12. In Canada, charges against people who perform Euthanasia have ranged from administering a noxious substance, to manslaughter, to murder13. According to the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (2009), some of the factors that can contribute to someone’s decision to end his/her own life includes loss, addictions, trauma, depression, serious physical illness and the inability to cope with life changes14. Today, people believe they have a right to the ‘end-of-life’ or to opt for physician-assisted suicide because of serious debilitating illnesses or their inability to cope with trauma or pain. We must be very cautious of trespassing grounds we once were weary of before.
We need to ask ourselves if we can strictly regulate Euthanasia so as to avoid a repeat in history. We also have to realize that, people who are now making their own choice of end-of-life may be in a vulnerable or compromising state because of their poor health or state of being. Families with “suffering” relatives may perhaps think of other alternatives to relieve the suffering. “Legislation to permit Euthanasia could limit developments to improve care for those who are dying, as it would be a quicker and easier alternative than conducting palliative care research”15.
Let us not opt for the easy route. Besides, the current Canadian justice system would have to be carefully evaluated and restructured to ensure there are no mistrials or wrong convictions. Mercy killing in a hospital setting is only a new term to distract us and to erase from people’s minds, what was done to humanity a few years ago. Remember by then, many will be seniors and the younger generation will think, ‘well grandma or grandpa is too sick, too weak, too old, too slow and too expensive and no longer valuable, and since we have a right to their riches, let’s opt for an organized, supervised suicide program’. The fact that we have the technology to prolong life is a tool to be used positively in achieving the highest attainable standard of care, a necessity and a right which is yet to be attained by many developing nations. We all have a duty to protect, promote, and preserve life through the use of knowledge and resources available, research and technology. We must not violate, oppress, abuse, refuse care or intentionally end life regardless of the intent. Instead, rather than focusing on expediting death, we should be focused on giving hope through supportive life giving care and prolonging lives. After all, your future depends on it.
1 Nicol,Tiedemann and Valiquet, “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada, 3.
2 Gruskin, Grodin, Annas and Marks, “Perspectives on Human Rights”, 473.
3 Gruskin et al, “Perspectives on Human Rights, 539.
4 Michalsen and Reinhart. “Euthanasia”: A confusing term, abused under the Nazi regime and misused in
present end-of-life debate, 1304.
5 Gruskin et al. 540.
6 Patients Right Council, “Assisted Suicide and Death with Dignity – Part III”
7 Buiting et al, “Reporting of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide”, 10(18).
8 Kuhse, Singer, Baume, Clark and Rickard. “End-of-life decisions in Australian medical practice”, 191.
9 Gruskin et al, “Perspectives on Health and Human Rights”, 296.
10 Gruskin et al, “Perspectives on Health and Human Rights”, 473.
11 Gruskin et al, “Perspectives on Health and Human Rights”, 473.
12 Miriam-Webster 2012, “Online Definition of Suicide”.
13 Nicol et al, “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada”, 4.
14 Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health.
15 Nicol et al, “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide”, 3.
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