OTTAWA (CCN)—After legalized euthanasia, the prognosis for Canada is “not good,” including hopes for better palliative care Senator Betty Unger told a national prolife conference Nov. 4.
Bill C-277, Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu’s private members bill calling for a national palliative care framework, could be at risk, Senator Unger warned.
Though it has had the support of all parties and is now at third reading in the Senate, there are rumors the Liberal government will prorogue Parliament in the New Year, ending the present session, she said.
If the bill is not passed before then, it will be dropped along with all private members bills.
“I wish I had good news for you, but I do not,” Unger told the 200 participants at the conference sponsored by Life Canada, a national education prolife organization, and one of its member groups Action Life Ottawa.
The debate will go on as long as there are senators wishing to speak to the bill, Unger said, urging people to call their senator to convey their concern.
Dr. Jose Pereira, a palliative care expert and chief scientific officer of Pallium Canada, said the promised surge in palliative care that was supposed to accompany legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide has not come. Instead, Canada’s ranking on end-of-life care has slipped, according to several international surveys, he said.
Bill C-277 is necessary to address the patchwork of services across Canada, he said.
Real choice does not exist without access to good palliative care, he stressed.
Since the legalization of euthanasia in June 2016, a reported 1982 people have requested and received euthanasia, Unger said.
“That’s the equivalent of 49 city buses full of people.”
But the statistics do not reveal the full picture, she said. Some jurisdictions did not release numbers, nor did some hospitals.
In Quebec, 43 physicians were reported to have not followed the rules properly, she said.
If some physicians are willing to bend the rules, how many are following the requirements of the reporting procedures? she asked.
“The truth is we don’t know the real numbers or the impact on our culture,” on our attitudes or euthanasia’s effect on future generations,” she said.
“Euthanasia seems to be increasingly embraced” by physicians, nurses and society.
Canada is the only jurisdiction that permits nurse practitioners to perform euthanasia, she said. In the first six months after legalization, there were only seven cases of a lethal injection administered by a nurse practitioner, but in the second six months, there were 38 cases, a 542 per cent increase.
“These new ‘angels of mercy’ are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of euthanizing people,” she said.
She cited a case of a young woman with multiple health challenges who was pressured by her doctors to opt for euthanasia. The woman, Candace, and her mother are featured in a new documentary produced by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, she said.
“To my knowledge, the doctors faced no consequences.”
“The culture of death has begun to metastasize into the health care system,” she said.
Unger also called attention to the Canadian Pediatric Society’s position statement urging the examination of euthanasia requests for people of all ages.
While the present law prohibits euthanasia for children under 18, the Pediatric Society says there “may be a case for euthanasia of several disabled children of all ages without or without their consent.”
“I believe we have lost our moral bearings as a society,” Unger said. “Unless we return to them, this story does not end well.”
While a political change is needed, Unger said the moral fabric of society cannot be repaired by government.
“We need help. God’s help,” she said.
Dr. Pereira said the legalization of euthanasia has impacted every day he works as a palliative care physician.
He had a patient in his late 50s with advanced cancer of the esophagus that had spread. “He had two tubes in each lung and was clearly at the end of life,” he said.
When he told the family the man had hours to a few days to live and it was better for him to remove the feeding tube, they replied, “No, you can’t do that. That’s euthanasia and we don’t agree with euthanasia.”
The difficulties are compounded by the horrific opioid crisis, making it difficult to persuade people they need opioids to control their pain.
Opioids, like cars, are safe when they are used properly, he said.
“There is a perfect storm around Medical Aid in Dying [MAiD],” he said. He has to spend far more time explaining that opioid treatments are safe and that withdrawing burdensome care at end of life is not euthanasia.
“We have to separate euthanasia from palliative care,” he said.
Confusion is created by using the euphemism MAiD, he said. Now dying with dignity is equated with euthanasia.
“Now we feel as if what we’ve been doing for years is not dignity,” he said.
Though it has cost the health system something to implement euthanasia in Canada, a paper published earlier this year revealed the cost savings to the system in the future “are substantial.”
He said he expects at some point in time, people will be using the financial aspect to promote the practice.