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February 20, 2015 (—Most of Canada’s palliative care doctors want nothing to do with assisting people to commit suicide, presumably by providing fatal drugs and the means for physically challenged patients to self-administer them.

Polled by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians in January, before the Supreme Court of Canada legalized assisted suicide with its decision in the Carter case, 73 percent of the palliative care doctors who responded were opposed to the legalization of euthanasia and 69 percent opposed legalization of assisted suicide.

What’s more, 74 percent believed that they, as providers of palliative care, should have nothing to do with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, if and when legalized. Curiously, the Canadian Medical Association Journal chose to report the 74 percent of those polled as 56 percent of all members.

Why the CMAJ wanted to reduce a strong majority of opposition to assisted suicide among palliative physicians to a narrow one is a mystery, though one reason may be the CMA’s own recent retreat from its long-time opposition to mercy killing, exemplified by its December statement that “there are rare occasions where patients have such a degree of suffering, even with access to palliative and end of life care, that …medical aid in dying may be appropriate.”

But the subset of CMA members who devote their lives to making the last months and days of terminal patients as comfortable and painless as possible evidently disagree.

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“Palliative care physicians don't see assisted suicide as part of palliative care,” Dr. Susan MacDonald, the president of the CSCPC told the CMAJ. “Physician-assisted suicide should happen separate from palliative care — absolutely.”

Already, she said, many members of the public associate palliative care with euthanasia and assisted suicide—to their detriment. “There's a huge misconception out there that that's what palliative care is — it's all about death.” As a result, potential patients reject treatment or care for fear they will be hurried to their death.

The Quebec government may have encouraged this by treating euthanasia and palliative care as if they were on a continuum of “end of life care,” rather than diametrically opposed approaches, as Canada’s palliative doctors believe. Said MacDonald: “The great majority of [palliative care] is about life and living life as best as you possibly can, not just from a physical perspective, but from an emotional and spiritual and psychological perspective.”

The palliative care doctors’ association made clear in a recent statement its concern that patients and doctors “may inadvertently be negatively impacted by the SCC decision.” It pledged to lobby “Parliament, and provincial legislatures and others…to minimize potential harm for the majority and respect the rights of the minority who seek this mode of death.”