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The Protection of Conscience Project

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To kill or not to kill – or even to call it killing?

It seems that an advocate of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (EAS), which is legal in Canada since 2016, complained to the “The Protection of Conscience Project” administrators about their use of the word, “killing,” rather than “Medically Assisted Death” (MAD) when writing about the law. The wording of the objection exposes the potential limitations even on thoughts, much less the act of refusal, of physicians who object to participating in EAS.

In response, Sean Murphy, an Administrator of the Project, discusses and defines the acts and prohibitions involved in EAS, threatened conscience protection in law as decided by Canadian legislators and courts, and policy statements of the Canadian Medical Association.
A recent case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada considered “whether or under what circumstances physicians and institutions should be allowed to refuse to provide or collaborate in homicide and suicide.” While the Canadian courts have not made it illegal to refuse, the author points out that the Canadian Medical Association now considers EAS medical treatment. Although refusal isn’t illegal, if it becomes “unethical,” the licenses of conscientious objectors may one day be at risk. (Mr. Murphy let me know that the CMA is trying to respect both views)*
Just as all inalienable rights are dependent on the protection of the right to life, all medical ethics principles (autonomy, beneficence, justice) are based on the foundation of nonmaleficience, “Cure when possible but, first, do no harm.” This is the First Principle of Medicine.
The editorial gives an useful “litmus test” for discerning between ethical and unethical acts carried out under the umbrella of medical therapy: it’s considered a “failure” if the patient doesn’t die as a result of EAS.
In contrast, the intent of withdrawal or withholding medical treatment is not necessarily to cause death, but to stop acts that are unwanted or medically inappropriate because they do not heal, cure, slow the progression of the disease or relieve pain and suffering, but actually exasperate suffering and may cause damage beyond that inflicted by the disease.
To use a current case in the news in the USA (which I recently covered here), Baby Tinslee Lewis’ doctors wish to withdraw life sustaining treatment that they believe is medically inappropriate. The doctors would not consider it a failure if, rather than die of her severe heart and lung damage, she continued to live.
Canada is already far down the slippery slope of mandating participation in induced (elective) abortion and “MAD” by designating each as “therapeutic and medical services.” The Project Conscience authors rightly predict the possible consequences:
“[I]f the state can force unwilling people to kill or help to arrange for the killing of other people, there would seem to be nothing that the state cannot demand of its citizens. This would promote the development of dangerous forms of authoritarian and even totalitarian government: ultimately more effective and deep-rooted, perhaps, within a democratic framework than they ever have been in dictatorial regimes.”

(*EDITED An earlier version stated that licences were at risk. Not yet.

BBN 11 February 2020 12:30 AM)

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