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TORONTO (ChurchMilitant.com) - As physician-assisted suicide gains acceptance worldwide, a Canadian doctor is calling for children to witness the death of patients killed by their physicians.
Writing online, Canadian physician Susan Woolhouse has been present for approximately 70 so-called medically assisted deaths. In a blog post titled "Preparing children for the medically assisted death of a loved one," Dr. Woolhouse writes that "instinct told me that involving children in the MAiD [medical assistance in dying] process of their loved one was possibly one of the most important and therapeutic experiences for a child."
"My past experiences during my palliative care rotations reassured me that children could benefit from bearing witness to a loved one's death. Why would MAiD be any different?" she asked.
According to Woolhouse, roughly 7% of assisted suicides involve patients under the age of 55. She notes that "this will result in more children being impacted by the assisted death of a loved one," and argues that minors should be present during assisted suicides.
"Assuming that children are given honest, compassionate and non-judgmental information about MAiD, there is no reason to think that witnessing a medically assisted death cannot be integrated as a normal part of the end of life journey for their loved one," Woolhouse asserts. "If the adults surrounding them normalize MAiD, so will the children."
Woolhouse encourages doctors to show children the devices (syringes, stethoscope, IV supplies) they will use to mete out their loved one's demise in advance of the procedures. She also suggests avoiding euphemisms for what is about to happen:
Here is what I say: "I am going to give your [loved one] medication over a period of about 10 minutes. This medication will make her very look very tired and then she will very quickly go into a coma. This means that she will no longer be able to hear, see or feel any pain. You might hear strange breathing sounds, however these do not cause her any pain. ... When a body dies, it can no longer see, feel pain or hear. It can't ever be fixed." Note that once a person has died, I do not use the loved one's name when referring to the body so as to help children understand that their loved one is no longer alive.
Woolhouse also suggests that crafts can help children process their loved one's assisted suicide. She encourages kids to "make a hug" by tracing the outline of their outstretched arms on a bedsheet and wrapping it around their loved one before the suicide begins.
Last year, Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin declared unconstitutional some parts of both the federal and provincial MAiD laws. She thereby annulled Canada's euthanasia laws which require death to be reasonably foreseeable before medically induced death can take place.
The Canadian government introduced a bill in Parliament in February to revise the country's Criminal Code to go further than the court's decision. If passed, the bill would remove safeguards previously in place to protect vulnerable people. There would be no waiting period, thus enabling physicians to diagnose, assess and kill their patients in just one day. In addition, independent oversight would be minimized, requiring but one signature.
The caretakers of the patients ostensibly asking for death would serve as "independent" witnesses. If a patient seeks to withdraw consent for medically assisted death, there is currently no mechanism to ensure that the process can be reversed.
Elsewhere, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled last month that, despite the country's history of involuntary euthanasia, a law prohibiting professionally assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it supposedly deprives patients of "the right to a self-determined death." In the court's summation, Judge Andreas Vosskuhle wrote that this right includes "the freedom to take one's life and seek help doing so."
In the 1930s and 40s, Nazi Germany systematized and automated its death camps to kill millions with the help of corporations such as Bayer and IBM. Hitler's regime utilized its Aktion T4 program to annihilate hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people even before it set about murdering other enemies of the state. Nazi Germany promoted assisted suicide with the movie Ich Klage an (I Accuse), a film commissioned by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
The right-to-die movement is forging ahead elsewhere in Europe. Spain and Portugal are on the cusp of legalizing euthanasia, and activists are likely to use the German court's decision to legalize it in Sweden and the United Kingdom. The German decision is more radical than in Belgium and the Netherlands — where euthanasia has been legal for more than a decade, even for children, with some restrictions — as it establishes induced death as a fundamental right, regardless of age or condition.
The threat posed by the establishing of euthanasia as a human right has become even more patent in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Doctors in early hotspots China and Italy are faced with shortages of essential tools such as respirators. The elderly and those with compromised immunity are especially at risk. Bioethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan has long recognized that rationing scarce resources in medical treatment is appropriate, telling Voices in Bioethics in 2017: "It's pretty clear that rationing scarce resources is going to be a big issue for a variety of reasons: cost, aging population."
In an interview with The Washington Post, Caplan predicted, "The public will accept triage and rationing if they understand the process."
"But if it's secretive or looks like favoritism to politicians or the rich, they will not accept that — whatever the rules are," he added. Triage — the rationing of care according to the severity of a patient's condition — is frequently used on battlefields and in emergencies.
A utilitarian approach to medicine and shortages during the current crisis has been broached in medical journals. A recent Clinical Ethics article, for example, argues that in cases of seriously ill patients with a poor quality of life, they should be allowed to die and the resources sustaining them directed elsewhere:
The first argument is that permitting assisted dying allows consenting patients to avoid negative quality-adjusted life years, enabling avoidance of suffering. The second argument is that the resources consumed by patients who are denied assisted dying could instead be used to provide additional (positive) quality-adjusted life years for patients elsewhere in the healthcare system who wish to continue living and to improve their quality of life. The third argument is that organ donation may be an additional potential source of quality-adjusted life years in this context.
They argue that denying medically induced death is to the detriment of patients who wish to die and those who do not. Legalizing medically assisted death, they argue, would allow patients to avoid negative "quality-adjusted life years" (QALYs). QALYs measure the quantity and quality of life lived, which are used by the health industry to assess the value of health outcomes. They write: "Legalizing assisted dying in the United Kingdom is likely to yield a substantial increase in QALYs across the patient population as a whole."
In an e-mail response to Church Militant, Dr. Michelle Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians deplored suggestions that children should watch health professionals kill their patients. "For the time being," she wrote, "contrary to the blunted moral conscience of this pro-suicide blogging physician, most families and health professionals (including even those who participate in assisted suicide), realize deep down that assisted killing is not something to celebrate."
"Encouraging children to witness a loved one's assisted suicide teaches them that suicide and the killing of others are acceptable and sane solutions to personal and societal problems," Cretella added. "It is well known that favorable publicity about suicide — including assisted suicide — leads to 'imitative suicidal behaviors,' especially among children and adolescents."
Cretella cited the World Health Organization, which has warned the media: "Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems. ... Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide." She noted that similar guidelines have been issued by U.S. authorities.