The legacy of Jack Kevorkian (we will not call him doctor) lives on, as on February 6, 2015 Canada’s highest court mandated assisted suicide for the disabled, striking down the Canadian law which protects the disabled against assisted suicide. People with disabilities must now be killed when they consent under the February 6th decision.
Unlike doctor-prescribed suicide laws in Oregon, Washington and Vermont that theoretically are limited to those with terminal illness, this sweeping ruling allows killing any Canadian who “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including any illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering seen as intolerable by the individual suffering any particular medical condition.
Note: “Irremediable” means: incurable – not terminal.
While the ruling, on its face applies only to “a competent adult person clearly consenting to the termination of his or her life”, the court hinted that it may later hold that surrogates have the right to kill people with disabilities who cannot speak for themselves and have never asked to die.
National Right to Life News Today reports:
1. The judgment creates the potential for the most permissive and least restrictive criteria for assisted suicide in the world, putting persons with disabilities at serious risk.
2. The CCD (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) is disappointed that the views of people with disabilities in Canada, as shared by the leading disability advocacy groups around the world, were disregarded by the Court.
3. The Court did not impose a requirement of terminal illness, as is required in the states of Washington and Oregon.
4. The judgment permits assisted suicide on the basis of psychological suffering. This places people with serious mental and emotional disabilities at risk, as well as people who have not yet come to grips with their disability.
5. The judgment allows people to decline palliative and other care that would alleviate their suffering, and impose an obligation on the state to provide.
6. The Court has focused on striking the law using two potentially expansive criteria (“grievous and irremediable medical condition” and “intolerable suffering”) – in doing so, it paid no attention to ensuring Assisted Suicide is limited to a small number.
7. The judgment makes the existence of a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” rather than a terminal illness, one of the two primary criteria – this potentially means that all persons with a serious disability in Canada can access Assisted Suicide. This degree of permissiveness does not exist anywhere else in the world.
8. The second criteria, “intolerable suffering,” is completely subjective and will make it difficult to review decisions of doctors like Dr. Kevorkian, who felt the existence of a disability was intolerable.
9. Numbers are revealing – in Belgium, the number of Assisted Suicide deaths has increased an average of 47.77% annually since 2003, and in the Netherlands it has increased 64.13% since 1995, with no end in sight to this increase.
10. Parliament can and should act to place crucial safeguards on the Court’s judgment to limit access to assisted suicide.
11. CCD (Council of Canadians with Disabilities)call on Parliament to show national leadership on the issues of palliative and long-term care to reduce the number of people who will choose assisted suicide out of desperation because they do not have access to support systems to ease their end of life.
The court acknowledged that “Some people with disabilities opposed the legalization of assisted dying, arguing that it implicitly devalues their lives and renders them vulnerable to unwanted assistance in dying, as medical professionals assume that a disabled person “leans towards death at a sharper angle than the acutely ill – but otherwise non-disabled patient.”
The goal of preventing vulnerable persons from being induced to commit suicide at a time of weakness is very narrow. It will be very challenging for Canadian legislators to craft laws that provide realistic measures of protection for the decisional capacity and vulnerability of disabled persons from being induced to commit suicide at a time of weakness.
In the late 1980s, after an undistinguished career in medicine and an unsuccessful try at a career in the arts, Dr. Kevorkian, nicknamed Dr. Death, rediscovered a fascination with death that he had developed during his early years in medicine, only now his interest in it was no longer as a private event, but as a matter of public policy.
In 1984, Dr. Kevorkian was invited to brief members of the California Legislature on a bill that would enable condemned prisoners to donate their organs and die by anesthesia instead of poison gas or the electric chair.
The experience was a turning point, from which he embarked on becoming involved in the growing national debate on “dying with dignity”. In 1987 he visited the Netherlands, where he studied techniques that allowed Dutch physicians to assist in the suicides of terminally ill patients without interference from the legal authorities.
He spent eight years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in the death of the last of about 130 ailing patients whose lives he had helped end, beginning in 1990.
In Oregon, where a schoolteacher had become Dr. Kevorkian’s first assisted suicide patient, state lawmakers in 1997 approved a statute making it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal medications to help terminally ill patients end their lives. In 2006 the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found that Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act protected assisted suicide as a legitimate medical practice.
In 1995, The American Medical Association called Dr. Kevorkian “a reckless instrument of death” who “poses a great threat to the public.”
Diane Coleman, the founder of Not Dead Yet, which describes itself as a disability-rights advocacy group, attacked his approach. “It’s the ultimate form of discrimination to offer people with disabilities help to die,” she said, “without having offered real options to live.”
Jack Kevorkian did not choose suicide for his own death, which occurred in June of 2011, but died of natural causes, in a hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, at the age of 83.
His legacy of assisted suicide lives on however, and Canada’s ruling may soon follow here in the United States, as we seem to be following in many of their court ruling footsteps.
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