02.26.2016 08:39 AM

Death is the cure of all disease

And, apparently, it’s now seen as a cure for other maladies by our elected representatives.  My quick reaction to that well-meaning but – sorry – fatally-flawed report by Parliamentarians yesterday:

There are myriad problems associated with the report, which I assume is why Canada’s impressive new Minister of Justice was so cautious in her response. Said she, properly: “We’re looking to ensure that we continue to take an empathetic approach, that we look to create balance in our approach that recognizes the autonomy of individuals, that recognizes the need to protect the vulnerable, that respects the conscience rights of medical practitioners, and that will take a little bit of time.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for me to say this, but I will: I don’t come to this difficult issue as a Roman Catholic. I approach it as a pro-choice progressive, and as the son of a physician who won the Order of Canada, in part, because of his work on the ethicality of euthanasia. As our Dad used to say to us around the kitchen table: “Doctors go to medical school to learn how to save lives, not end them. A whole new category of professionals will need to be trained and certified to euthanize people. And who will decide what is ‘terminal’?”

Therein lies the rub. Euthanasia for the “terminally ill” is dangerous, I think, because we don’t actually possess a working a definition of “terminal.” Jack Kevorkian, the “Dr. Death” who killed dozens of Americans until his own (perhaps timely) passing, defined terminal as “any disease that curtails life even for a day.”

Even a day? In the pro-death crowd, that’s actually considered conservative. The co-founder of the Hemlock Society defines it as “terminal old age.” Others declare a person terminal when death will occur in a “relatively short time.”

Given that we all start to die the moment we are born, you can perhaps see the problem here. One man’s terminal is another man’s weeks, or months, or years.

As a liberal, I have another problem with terminating those who are “terminal.” The overriding theme in every discussion of health care, nowadays, is cost. Politicians and bureaucrats — conservative ones in particular — are always obsessively looking for ways to contain health-care expenditures.

So, for example, after the passage of Oregon’s Measure 16 — which similarly legalized the oxymoronic “assisted suicide” — the state’s leading health bureaucrat declared such measures would be paid for as “comfort care” under the Oregon Health Plan. Which, coincidentally enough, provides medical coverage for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who are poor.

Months later, Oregon then announced plans to cut back on health-care coverage for poor citizens. Killing off the sickly poor? Robustly funded. Helping them actually get better? Not so much.

Students of history will recall, here, that euthanasia – literally, “good death” – was the NSDAP’s first program of mass murder. It predated the Holocaust by a decade, in fact. The Nazis declared that their benign objective was eliminating “life unworthy of life.” That is, easing the mortal burden of Germans who had severe psychiatric, neurological, or physical disabilities – and who were similarly a financial burden on German society and the Nazi state. People liked it, at first.

And, before you are moved to quote Godwin’s Law to me, don’t.  Just don’t.

Because, you know, this and this.


  1. nobonus4nonis says:

    Will someone please invent the “Obliteron.”
    OK, you know it’s time to go. you can’t get good palliative care (see documentary “Dying at Grace, will change your life forever though very very very hard to watch) because you’re too poor or isolated and you enter said “Obleteron” of your own volition and poof you’re gone. no trace, no residue, nothing, nada. They could even be built in Cranbrook where some people like to kill shit. not as loud as bombing or bright but hey you can’t everything.

  2. Matt says:

    Yeah, when you think about it, every single one of us is terminal. First thing I thought was the report was way to broad, especially the recommendations regarding the mentally ill. But that said, at this point they are just recommendations, and won’t necessarily be in the legislation.

    PS – My antivirus software on my desktop flagged blocked your site last night saying it was trying to install a trojan. Was using Firefox browser.

  3. Steve T says:

    A former high school teacher of mine had ALS, and was in quite a bad state towards the end. He eventually flew to Europe (Switzerland, I believe), to end his life. Seems an unnecessary financial and emotional burden to place on him, in that situation.

    By contrast, it is a totally different situation to apply this to children, or the mentally ill. Society has placed all sorts of restrictions (or accommodations) to those groups, based on their diminished capacity for fully rational thought, so why in the world would we allow them to make the decision to enlist help to end their life?

  4. lance mclean says:

    A case for the process used in “Logan’s Run” I guess, then we will never ever have to worry about getting old, sick, feeble etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSnLU9nyFSA

    Would a prisoner who is in jail for life, or can’t stand being in prison be allowed to die then? Their quality of life as they see it is not there? Bernardo, Pikton, if they choose to end it is it ok? I know alot would say yes as alot still believe in the death penalty, but how about all of those who do not, would they think it is ok for them to choose to die?

    This whole thing is a can of worms. I.E. Robert Latimer and his daughter, how would that have been handled under assisted suicide laws??

    I feel for the lawmakers as this is going to be, extremely difficult to get it right, if it is even possible to get it right.

  5. dean sherratt says:

    We are stuck with a Supreme Court decision that has broadly indicated what the new law must do…I went over the report, concentrating on “psychological” and didn’t like what I saw. There is now as assumption that of course such people are vulnerable but that is not enough to prevent the law from being triggered. “Vulnerable” is why we say that sex between a more powerful and more subordinate person is wrong and can have quite an impact if a court found that consent was not freely given in those circumstances. So too, there is a prohibition against youths having sex with adults…because the youth is deemed not to be able to consent because of immaturity. Here the Committee is moving beyond the court case and setting up the outlines of a scheme where youth of some sort of rudimentary maturity may not vote…may not have sex…but can convince the process of law to take his or her life. This is disproportionate and counter-intuitive as the law allows consequences far greater to cases when similar criteria in lesser ones would result in an offence.

    On psychological matters, how many people suffering from such an extreme malady would be deemed incompetent to rob a store or assault someone…yet would be prodded and kneaded by the system established to conclude that whatever free will is left in the person is sufficient to proceed to euthanasia.

    Finally and this remains uncertain, what amount of coercion will be applied to hospitals and doctors committed to the preservation of life where possible or at least not to commit harm. it is a nasty thing when a dollar of federal government money can be used as the means to force people to abandon their values. Some might argue that we can enforce an obligation of a civil servant to issue a same sex marriage certificate or perform a civil ceremony, regardless of their own personal views. Does that trump also the personal views of a doctor or hospital to perform or otherwise assist and collaborate in the ending of a human life? Again this is speculative but I’m seeing in front of me the debate moving from one of we must have strict safeguards to we need to make this as widely available as possible.

    Btw, I don’t see the comments of the Minister of Justice as words of caution…Your quotation reads as follows: “We’re looking to ensure that we continue to take an empathetic approach, that we look to create balance in our approach that recognizes the autonomy of individuals, that recognizes the need to protect the vulnerable, that respects the conscience rights of medical practitioners, and that will take a little bit of time.”

    The sentence is balanced…very, very balanced. But my fear is that the only operative part is the last caveat…that the process will take a little bit of time with no bets on the other caveats.

  6. JamesHalifax says:

    Warren noted:

    “As a liberal, I have another problem with terminating those who are “terminal.” The overriding theme in every discussion of health care, nowadays, is cost. Politicians and bureaucrats — conservative ones in particular — are always obsessively looking for ways to contain health-care expenditures”

    Actually, Warren, if you were honest with yourself, you would admit that it is CONSERVATIVES who are mainly opposed to this bill. when it comes to Conservatives and health care costs, we only want the option of paying for it ourselves. At no time do we, or have we said we should kill sick people to save money.

    Frankly, the party most in favour of fewer people…is the Green Party.

    The conervatives warned you about this bill Warren. We told you it would evolve from the sickly, elderly, and “definitely going to die soon” folks, to kids, the mentally disabled, etc.

    This has turned into a bill to relieve society of burden of caring for ill/dying folks, as opposed to relieving insufferable pain. the NDP should not have been allowed on the committee.

    You should have looked to Denmark. You’re dad was right; and I’m sure he would be ashamed of that report.

  7. M@ says:

    “Pro-death crowd” – there is such a thing?

    Meanwhile, the slope is getting pretty slippery around here. I’m confident that there can be a middle ground between euthanasia and “relieving society of burden of caring” etc. etc. Not that we don’t have some work to do in order to find it, but we can at least agree it’s there, I hope.

  8. Justin, not in Ottawa says:

    And there is this, I don’t like the ‘slippery slope’ argument either but we just can’t ram this through without thinking of great implications.


  9. Jack D says:

    I’m torn on this issue myself.

    I’m a Liberal and I’m all for assisted dying. I think if someone suffering from an excruciating illness is at a pointing their life where death would provide absolute relief, why should the government prevent them peace and force them to suffer with their illness?

    That said, there needs to be stipulations. What kinds of illnesses qualify, the stage of mind of those affected by suffering, the authority placed in loved ones and etc. are all things that need to be laid out with relative clarity.

    Where I’m not so open is the issue regarding minors. I understand that disease and suffering is not restricted to any age frame but the notion of assisted suicide for frankly, the inexperienced, is really disconcerting. I also think that doctors who have valid conscientious concerns should be allowed to have their opinions voiced in a safe environment.

    Honestly, we can figure this out as we go by keeping compassion as a motivating factor but lets take cautious steps with the attention of being inclusive as we, with limitations of course. But this is so a non-partisan issue that I sincerely hope to friggen god this doesn’t become a political issue.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    At Laval, I won a prize from the government for being “against” — have changed my mind since. However, we need rigid safeguards. Don’t like The Netherlands or Belgium — approach that is too broad.

    Would not support a blanket prohibition for minors or the mentally ill but safeguards have to be twice as tough for these two groups. In addition, physician participation cannot be mandatory.

  11. Maps Onburt says:

    Warren, you are dead on… but I think you are actually far closer to the conservatives on this position that Sonny’s Liberal party. Everyone thinks its a great idea to let terminal people die when they want to but unfortunately, it’s a very slippery slope from there to having guardians decide for them as you’ve pointed out. I’m also concerned that older people who might think they were becoming a burden might feel pressured into this. It’s wrong… dead wrong.

    • Peter says:

      I’m also concerned that older people who might think they were becoming a burden might feel pressured into this.

      You are quite right to be concerned about this, because the hard, truth is that, objectively speaking, in many cases they are a burden. Euthanasia advocates often talk about the right to make the decision “surrounded by their loved ones”, as if their families can be counted on to selflessly think of nothing but the aged person’s wishes and welfare and do everything they can the make them feel loved and wanted. That isn’t always going to happened and it’s too easy to simply condemn those who don’t as morally defective humans. The care of an aged person, which can go on for years in our age of medical wonders, can fray families and overwhelm them with time and financial demands as the person becomes physically and mentally more fragile and difficult, or who are suffering chronically as many do. Inheritances are postponed at the time they are most needed (ex. to educate grandchildren). There may be a place in Heaven for those who care selflessly for them, but a lot of people are simply unable to do it for years without succumbing to some degree of resentment or despair or even a debilitating depression. It’s a horribly difficult matter, but the point is we shouldn’t pretend the families are always some kind of reliable protection against pressure or abuse.

      As to those who think regulation and “rigid safeguards” are the answer, the hard truth again is that in most cases these will not be enforced by an old-fashioned family doctor who has known the person for years , but by an overworked, cash-strapped bureaucracy that answers to its own institutional imperatives. There are plenty of noble doctors and social workers who will do the right thing, but there comes a point when they are actually a problem for hospital administrators, financial managers, etc., who are paid to think of “the big picture”, not what’s right for any one individual. Those who think the wishes and interests of any one declining aged person will reliably prevail in such a milieu are simply naïve.

      It’s a insoluble existential issue that is born of the fact that we have succeeded in prolonging life span for much longer than we have prolonged general healthiness, financial independence and self-reliance. I’m with Warren, but there are times when I think objective reality, human nature and the gods of necessity make this a losing battle. I come from a family with a pattern of physical robustness combined with prolonged mental decline and we have all spent far too much time than is good for us railing at fate and the gods. I often recall my late grandmother, who grew up in the pre-antibiotic era, telling me how pneumonia used to be quietly but widely described as “the old person’s friend”.

  12. Wayne Anaka says:

    This question should haunt us all. As a strong Civil Libertarian individual rights liberal I fully understand the right to terminate your own life. I also understand the desire and sometimes need to end suffering of others. I agonize over the abuse that someone in a position to gain by freeing themselves of the cost and burden of caring for a handicapped child or sibling or parent. Sometimes it could be an inheritance or insurance policy or that you just can’t take the burden of care any longer. With those thoughts you are no longer trying to end the other persons suffering you are selfishly looking after your own best interests. Under no circumstances should people in this position ever be allowed to decide. The person themselves however if declared of sound mind should fully have the right when to prolong or terminate their own life. In the absence of such condition then we need to either leave it alone or come up with a tribunal system that can make the decision to terminate a life based 100% solely on medical grounds and suffering. if there is any money considerations then the answer must be again leave it alone.

  13. Brian Kinney says:

    Canadians are placing far too much trust and faith in their institutions and “experts”. I had worked in the medical system for 25 years and doctors are far too stupid to make these decisions. The public is giving credit far above and beyond what they deserve. Furthermore, they are practicing within a paradigm that is very limited in scope and hence what they provide as medical care. Most Canadians who think that the medical system is great have never been sick.

  14. Marion Lewis says:

    I loath other people’s morals. And my arm air rises at the sound of other people’s loudly proclaimed infinitely parsed ethics. I do not care if a physician is involved in my decision to die on my own terms. I shall run down to the corner and buy some heroin and that is that!
    Liberals love to make make more government and us, the poor subjects of the land will end up with some complicated form and costs. Furthermore the drugs will be of low quality with no bang. The sanctity of life is a outdated idea brought to favour when everyone had a bad time just living through war, pestilence and the ruling class. God, the great recycler, has no opinion on ones mode of death.

  15. dean sherratt says:

    It is perhaps unreasonable to chide Warren for just one word but I will…”The overriding theme in every discussion of health care, nowadays, is cost. Politicians and bureaucrats — conservative ones in particular — are always obsessively looking for ways to contain health-care expenditures”.

    The word of course is “conservative”…now it is “small c” but assuming you write that deliberately I’m not sure what it is intended to mean.

    By way of example and taking us mercifully away from euthanasia for the moment, I recount my experience as a father with my violently autistic son. Last Spring, after yet another police intervention, he was accepted into the psychiatric wing of the Ottawa General Hospital. It took some 10 weeks or so before they could stabilize his behaviors sufficiently to release. He was appropriately admitted and treated. The head of the wing was obviously concerned that we intended to leave him in the wing. There was another autistic already there for more than two years (as an aside he recently came to public view when his care was so poor that his teeth had rooted away and 26 were removed because of abscesses – he must have been in extraordinary pain for an extended period and I cannot imagine how he could even eat). Now the wing got my wife to sign a paper indicating we would pay $200 a day if we left him after the date of discharge…apparently this is illegal in accordance with the Ontario Ombudsman.

    Are they being conservative? I don’t think so…desperate parents leave their kids there because they had no other choice but it isn’t the right place for them…they is not receiving any treatment and in the case I cite is apparently receiving virtually no care at all. Furthermore, the costs for his maintenance is many times residential placement where he would actually receive care and attention of all sorts. Problem? The budget for placements doesn’t want to assume responsibility for the budget of the clinic even if the burden to the taxpayer is several times heavier. This is pure bureaucracy and also a misdistribution of monies…neither conservative or liberal. Now there are three autistics in the clinic taking up beds and delaying the arrival for treatment of serious cases needing psychiatric intervention.

    The recent Ontario budget mercifully increased funding for autistics (and not after many years when the need was obvious and pressing). I hope that the kids or young adults in the clinic may be placed finally and those clinic beds opened up.

    But I think this is often the way things work…it is messy and often results in poor treatment to individuals but you can see the logic of the bureaucracy when money and need are not in sync and no one between the two ministries of health and community and social services can work out a solution that would work for both. It is just not conservative…

  16. Premini Benedict says:

    When u have terminal illness it should you up to you to choose to die or suffer living. How is that a dog could die within minutes without suffering at the Vet’s hand but assisted suicide takes few days for humans. Just the thought you are gradually dying is major stress. Do it in such a way u go within minutes.

  17. Gary Thompson says:

    Terminally ill are kept ‘comfortable’ to wit OD narcotics, cause of death acute respiratory failure. Live human study going on in Ontario majority of harm is happening to non drug overdose patients. NO ONE SAYS A WORD?? Dr. Aaron Orkin’s Power Point Canadian Emergency Care Conference Feb 22, 2016 ‘Overdose Training and Naloxone Distribution’ Dr. Orkin is co-author 2015 AHA CPR guidelines Part 10:3 opioid OD See Slide page 16a below??

    My letter Emergency Medicine News Dec. 2015

    Dr. Aaron Orkin co-author Can. J. Public Health 2013;104(3):e200-4
    ‘Development and implementation of an opioid overdose prevention and response program in Toronto, Ontario.’

    One of my articles in the 2015 AHA & ILCOR CPR guidelines
    Such an honour to receive a like on the above post from Dr. Richard Wilmot who spent years doing street outreach in disenfranchised neighbourhoods.
    Treating physical and mental health issues. ‘American Euphoria: Saying ‘Know’ to Drugs’ By Richard Wilmot

    Deputation Toronto Board of Health https://youtu.be/QhsDjmI9H9c Deputants speeches https://aliascpr.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/deputants-medical-consensus/

    Spreading deadly misinformation chest compressions only has and continues to backfire in a thousand ways you could never dream up, nature of the creature. There is no medical evidence for the Public Health protocol, it’s contraindicated.

    Signs of OD and proper treatment, rescue breathing any respiratory emergency
    You would think it brutal to withhold the air from anyone

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