When stories surfaced last year about patients in Canada choosing euthanasia because they couldn’t afford housing or the healthcare or supports they needed to keep living, defenders of Canada’s euthanasia regime (“MAiD”) “pushed back aggressively, accusing their critics of spreading disinformation, or worse.”
The public discourse in Canada however is fast taking a more sinister turn.
A new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (ironically titled “Choosing death in unjust conditions: hope, autonomy and harm reduction”) argues that people who find themselves in these situations (i.e. poverty, lack of support, loneliness etc) should not be prevented from accessing euthanasia because to do so would only cause more harm.
The authors, Kayla Wiebe, a PhD candidate in philosophy, and bioethicist Amy Mullin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, write in the Journal of Medical Ethics:
To force people who are already in unjust social circumstances to have to wait until those social circumstances improve, or for the possibility of public charity that sometimes but unreliably occurs when particularly distressing cases become public, is unacceptable.
A harm reduction approach acknowledges that the recommended solution is necessarily an imperfect one: a ‘lesser evil’ between two or more less than ideal options.
It appears that a disturbingly high percentage of young people in Canada agree with the authors, with 41 percent saying they would support access to euthanasia on the grounds of poverty, according to a recent survey.
The survey, conducted by Research CO., a Canada-based public opinion researcher, reveals the troubling shift that has occurred in Canada since legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide: 28 per cent of people surveyed agreed with providing euthanasia on the grounds of homelessness, 43 per cent for mental illness, and perhaps most shockingly, 50 per cent for disability.
For those aged between 18-34 years, there was even greater support for these proposed extensions to euthanasia eligibility.
These latest developments are disturbing to say the least.
The law is a teacher. The original removal of the prohibition against intentional killing has resulted in the message being sent to Canadians that human life is expendable and that some lives are not worth living.
And sadly it seems that young people in Canada especially are embracing that message.
Arguments that elevate individual autonomy over and above all other considerations has logically led to the widening of euthanasia eligibility criteria such that it is now being argued it is “good” if people who have no other options or supports or healthcare at least can apply to have the state to kill them.
Practically, this will mean that the government and broader society will have much less of an impetus going forward to ensure Canadians have access to appropriate and available palliative care and social supports, as well as access to health and psychological care.