No Choice - abuse and coercion to death

by Paul Russell:

Euthanasia and assisted suicide is sold to the public as a matter of choice; perhaps the ultimate act of autonomy. We all want choice and we all want to enjoy the experience of a sense of control and self-determination that making our own choices brings.

Coercion and pressure are serious concerns with euthanasia & assisted suicide. Is the person's 'choice' genuine, made without pressure or coercion and always with a clear perspective?

I would argue that this is not the case. But at least, I think, it should be acknowledged that there are significant risks associated with subtle and not-so-subtle pressure and coercion and that such influences are not easily uncovered. The very fact that advocates for euthanasia and assisted suicide law talk about the necessity of safeguards confirms this fact.

But what if there seems to be no choice at all? Such was the circumstances of a tragic case that occurred in 2014 in Canada that is being played out in the courts at the moment.

A middle aged woman experienced a significant blood infection after knee surgery. The Toronto Sun identifies the woman as Deanna Leblanc:

"Deanna, 49, a wife and mother of two, was happy, healthy and "beautiful" in the days leading up to her death, Leblanc testified. Two days prior, she had knee scope day surgery in Newmarket and she was prescribed bedrest. At 4 a.m. the next night she called out to her husband, sweating and gasping for breath.

"By the time the ambulance got her to Midland hospital she had no vital signs, her heart had to be started several times and she was put on a ventilator.

"Throughout the day as Leblanc held his wife's hand, the day nurse and at least one doctor told Mike not to give up hope. A possible infection from the knee scope, or a blood clot, was suspected."

Her husband, Mike Leblanc, gave testimony recently to the court in the trial of the night nurse, Joanna Flynn, who came on duty that night:

"She (Flynn) told me it wasn't just a ventilator — that my wife was on life support," Mike testified. "She said my wife was brain dead...that she was already gone."

He said it was the first time anyone mentioned life support or that his wife was brain dead.

"I was upset," he croaked, as he wiped tears with a tissue. "I was in shock."

What came next was even more troubling to the husband.

"She told me if her life support wasn't shut off I would have to sit there and watch her heart blow up, or burst," he said. "It didn't sound like it was going to be pretty."

Trembling and mouthing the word "okay," to Flynn, he said she calmly shut the system down.

Moments later, a doctor came in to check his wife's knee.

"I thought, why are you doing that?" Mike testified. "I couldn't understand why he was concerned with her knee if she's already dead."

Mr Leblanc also testified that: "I didn't think I had much of a choice," the grieving widower testified in front of a jury Friday. "It was either watch her heart explode — or let her go peacefully."

While the court is yet to determine on the charges of manslaughter and criminal negligence, what appears to be clear from Leblanc's testimony is that he was made to feel like he had no choice.

This is deeply troubling and, while not directly related to Canada's euthanasia laws (which did not exist at the time) it seems to be a prime example of the extreme-end of coercion and pressure. Bear in mind too that Canada's euthanasia laws allow nurses to do the deed.

Naysayers will be quick to point out that there needs to be two doctors involved and that death needs to be in the foreseeable future etc., but, even taking on board those flimsy 'safeguards' is it not still possible that such a scenarion could play out even within the context of the process of application for being made dead? Of course it is.

Flynn, if found guilty, cannot fall back on the euthanasia laws and claim somehow that her error was simply one of non-compliance with the protocols. We know, already, from the reports on the first seven months of operation of Quebec laws that there was an 8% non-compliance rate in completed reports. Some of these include not obtaining an appropriate second opinion. And while Flynn may feel the full brunt of the law on this occasion, the legal possibility now that a patient can be killed in prescribed circumstances by a doctor who is protected from prosecution because of the new law may well provide a cover for such unconscionable behaviour in the future.

This is a very sad story. It is also a very clear warning.