Edmonton

Doctor, advocate split on physician-assisted deaths

An Edmonton-area doctor says even if Canada legalizes physician-assisted suicide, he won't be helping his patients take their lives.

'Part of medicine is (to) do no harm, and I'm of the firm belief that killing is doing harm,' doctor says

Last year the supreme court recognized the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a doctor's help. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

An Edmonton-area doctor says even if Canada legalizes physician-assisted suicide, he won't be helping his patients take their lives.

In June, new law will come into effect in Canada governing physician-assisted suicide after the Surpreme Court overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide last February. Federal and provincial governments are now in the midst of preparing new regulations for physician-assisted dying.

An emergency care doctor in Stony Plain, Matthew Meeuwissen said he won't even refer a patient who wants to die to another doctor who will help them.

"I will not give in to medical nihilism ... I will follow my conscience," Meeuwissen said. "Part of medicine is (to) do no harm, and I'm of the firm belief that killing is doing harm.

"We are a healing art, a healing profession, and when we blur those lines, its going to have human consequences for physicians and its going to have some rather interesting consequences for society as a whole."

 "The reality is that people die all the time with medical assists. They store up their pharmaceuticals, they take drugs."- Brian Kiely, Dying With Dignity

A poll commissioned by the advocacy organization Dying With Dignity released Thursday suggests 80 per cent of Canadians agree that individuals with a terminal medical condition should be permitted to consent to assisted death in advance. The Ipsos-Reid poll was conducted online Feb. 2 to 5, and received input from more than 2,500 Canadians.

Meeuwissen said he has yet to have had a patient express their desire to die, and said we're not yet living in a culture in which this is "mainstream." Still, the doctor said moral culpability would prevent him from being involved in a patient's decision to die, or to even refer that patient to a doctor who would help them with this final request. 

Matthew Meeuwissen is an Emergency Care doctor in Stony Plain. He opposes the right to die law, while Brian Kiely is a Unitarian Minister and spokesman for Dying with Dignity. He supports the law. 9:53

Dying With Dignity spokesman Brian Kiely said in places where physician-assisted death exists, doctors who object to the practice don't have to be involved — and that's the way it should be here, he added. But not giving a patient information about physician-assisted death or a referral to another doctor, if they request it, is akin to abandoning that patient, he said.

Regardless of how Canada chooses to proceed with the issue, Kiely said it's something some patients have been taking into their own hands for years.

"The reality is that people die all the time with medical assists. They store up their pharmaceuticals, they take drugs," Kiely said.

"I suggest that society has already made the change, and that (there are) certain people in the medical system who are refusing to catch up. Ultimately, it's not about a societal change, it's about a small group of individuals who say 'I would like to end my life and stop suffering.'"

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