Ottawa Institutions Should Give People A Choice At Death



Why should a publicly funded institution be permitted to refuse a service to the dying that is legal and that could be performed on its premises with considerably less agony than exiling the patient?

Force individual medical practitioners to end a life? No. Tell institutions to follow the law? Yes. A dignified ending shouldn’t be hostage to institutional beliefs.

Ottawa Citizen editorial


Indeed. It’s not about institutions but the choice of the dying individual. Some medical institutions in Ottawa with religious affiliations are flying in the face of society and the law.

If so, they should not be publicly funded.

Don’t impose your institutional beliefs at a time when patients are most vulnerable.

Let them make a choice.

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7 thoughts on “Ottawa Institutions Should Give People A Choice At Death

  1. People rarely have a choice of which hospital, long-term care home or nursing home they end up in. If an ambulance is called, they take you to the closest hospital that is receiving patients. If you are no longer able to live on your own, unless you can afford to pay the fees yourself, you are assigned to whichever long-term care home has space that week. You can’t refuse to go somewhere because of their assisted-death policies – if you do, you go to the end of the wait-list.
    Any institution that accepts public dollars should have no discretion about applying public policy and offering their patients any legal treatment options. If they want to pick and choose what services they will provide, they are free to operate on their own without public money.

  2. “It’s not about institutions but the choice of the dying individual.” However, the life/death question is far more profound than this resolution would imply.

    Margaret Somerville is the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, and has written many articles on this topic, which have appeared widely in Canadian publications, including The Ottawa Citizen. Let me briefly quote from one such article (The Globe and Mail: “Why euthanasia and assisted suicide must remain legally prohibited”):

    Much ink has already been spilled on the pro– and anti-euthanasia arguments relevant to these initiatives, but there has been little discussion in the public square on the content of the “life concepts” that are informing this debate.

    …. respect for life (a preferable term to sanctity of life to avoid religious connotations and associations) is not just a religious value, it’s a foundational value of all societies in which reasonable people would want to live, as the Charter of Rights recognizes. It is foundational to what German philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls “the ethics of the [human] species” and I call “human ethics”, which must guide secular societies such as Canada.

    Where we disagree in the euthanasia debate is what honouring respect for human life requires. Those who equate loss of independence with loss of dignity believe that what they perceive as a quality of life not worth living justifies euthanasia. Those who see all humans as having dignity just because they are human, believe that respect for life requires that we do not intentionally kill another human being or help them to kill themselves, which means that euthanasia and assisted suicide must remain legally prohibited.

    1. Sheridan:

      Certainly an argument that is worthy of respect.

      I would argue that leaving people in agony with no hope of recovery does not respect the individual or humanity.

      One person I knew, a tough, tender and brave man, was in such agony as death approached that he asked a nurse if she would kill him. Of course, she could not.

      This person was treated with less dignity than a cat I had for 19 years which when he was in pain, dying and could not function anymore, I had put down peacefully at the vet. Not an easy thing to do but the right thing to do.

      They shoot horses don’t they?


    2. Sheridan,
      I respect your views and you are entitled to control your own end of life whatever way you wish to in accordance with your beliefs. In addition, if you are a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, I don’t think you should be required to go against those beliefs. However, I don’t think you have the right to impose your beliefs on me.

      I would like to know how you are defining “dignity”. I’ve definitely seen human beings without one shred of dignity suffering in agony and begging someone, anyone, to put them out of their misery. Is it dignified to leave someone to lie in a bed writhing in pain that medication can’t control – unless you give a dose so high that it ‘could’ be lethal? I see that as a living death and I want no part of it, either for myself or for my loved ones.

      I also don’t see lying in bed with machines to make me breathe and keep my bodily functions going with tubes down my throat to feed me as “living”. That’s not just “loss of independence” and there’s no dignity in it. Would you say I have the right to have those machines turned off even if I will certainly die?

      I’d like to be treated at least as well as you treat your dog or cat at the end of life.

    3. I will add, without reservation, the ‘religious connotations’ by referring to the sanctity of life. Our laws, historically, here in Canada, have largely been based on Judeo-Christian values.
      Granted that this term (Judeo-Christian values) is a convenient ethical one derived to group the commonalities of Jews and Christians. Those who are or come from Jewish and Christian faiths are those who make up most of our population.
      Because of these beliefs and as a result of fundamentally embracing the sanctity of life in whatever terminology you find tasteful, capital punishment had been abolished for civilian criminal offences in 1976. More recently, in 1998, this ban extended to those in the military for crimes such as desertion, cowardice, etc.

      Is this what we have become?
      We who are Canadian?
      We who are horrified over the executions of our citizens and neighbours by extremists all over the globe and at home?
      We who condemn those who kill others outside of the law?
      We, who are willing and eager to provide aid to those in need outside our borders?
      We who have abolished the death penalty as a form of punishment?
      We who now embrace the killing of the innocent, the desperate and in pain?

      There is nothing merciful or humane in intentionally killing another human being, however we try to justify it. Killing is killing. There are no exceptions.

  3. When I am exhausted, beyond my endurance , laying in bed unable to move , in a dirty diaper, with tubes shoved in my arms and nose and down my throat and have pains shooting through me, that feel like a vise lined with twisting daggers is being tightened around my body, and I have been there for days upon endless days then yes = PLEASE shoot me when I ASK.

  4. I respect Sheridan’s views and Somerville’s as well. But the new law on assisted death is the law.

    And if someone is very much against assisted dying, well they can die a natural death. (although hooked up to a ventilator and feeding tubes is not what I would call “natural”). But I think that those who have strong moral and religious positions against this should not be able to impose it on others.

    I also think that any hospital that is taking public funding must follow the law, viz, end of life choice. The end of life does not have to done by a medical doctor, it can be done by a nurse practitioner. My guess is that as we begin to get more accustomed to the law that the individual will have a prescription from a doctor which can done at home by the patient. (in Oregon, terminal patients felt much more relaxed with their illness knowing that they could “exit” whenever they felt that it was time.

    Paradoxically, many had the prescription and chose not to use it. Just knowing they had control gave them the dignity they sought). For those who are against this law my guess is that they have never seen a loved one struggle with end of life agony.


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