Is COVID-19 masking breaches of euthanasia safeguards?

Whilst some euthanasia and assisted suicide services have been paused or stopped completely during the COVID-19 pandemic, news from some jurisdictions indicates that euthanasia providers are using this opportunity to get around various ‘safeguards’ when it comes to providing access to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

There are reports that euthanasia providers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are providing euthanasia requests by way of ‘virtual assessment’ so as to reduce the risk of doctors getting COVID-19 from their patients. In addition, lobby groups for euthanasia providers in the United States are promoting ‘telehealth’ as a means of continuing access to euthanasia and assisted suicide during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In Australia, euthanasia by telehealth is illegal. Commonwealth Criminal Law makes it an offence to counsel someone to suicide by way of a carriage service (i.e. telephone or the internet). 

In addition, due to current social distancing restrictions, euthanasia providers in some provinces in Canada are also allowing “virtual witnessing” of patient consent forms.

Amidst calls to expedite euthanasia applications because of concerns about the Coronavirus, the advice from euthanasia doctors is that it may not be the best option, but however it is still an option.

In the words of one prominent euthanasia provider in Canada:

"I have provided for MAID on the same day that I've met someone on certain occasions," … "It's not common … MAID is a process that requires rigorous procedure and safeguarding and is meant to be that way."

These latest moves by the death lobby raise serious questions about their commitment to protecting vulnerable people.  How can a doctor realistically make an assessment about a patient’s capacity or otherwise to make a request for euthanasia and assisted suicide without a face to face consultation? How can they possibly check for coercion or undue influence by way of a Skype or Zoom call?  What will be missed? How can we know that a patient has voluntarily signed a consent form if the witness is not physically present?  How can we countenance taking such risks when vulnerable people are involved?

Terminally ill and vulnerable people deserve much better, especially at a time when so many medical resources have been deployed in the fight to save lives during this present pandemic.

They deserve the investment of our time, our care and our resources, not shortcuts and quick ‘work-arounds’.

Lives are literally hanging in the balance.