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Steve Weatherbe

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Canadian Medical Association says it’s getting ready for legalized euthanasia, but critics say it is pushing it

Steve Weatherbe

The Canadian Medical Association says it is preparing for the Supreme Court of Canada going either way with its imminent decision on whether or not to legalize euthanasia. But a Vancouver member says the CMA is actually pushing assisted suicide and euthanasia despite the wishes of its membership.

In a front-page article in the National Post, the CMA’s director of ethics, Dr. Jeff Blackmer, is quoted as saying, “We’re preparing for all eventualities and that [lifting the ban] is absolutely one of them.”

According to the Post, part of the CMA’s preparation for “all eventualities” is to survey how medical professions in a half-dozen U.S. states have responded to legalization. “What has worked, what hasn’t worked and how Canada can learn from those experiences,” Blackmer told the Post. Also consulted were countries that have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland.

Blackmer did not report that the CMA consulted any of the vast majority of countries or U.S. states, which still criminalize these two procedures, to see what can be learned for their experience.

Blackmer frankly admitted that “some” doctors see helping patients commit suicide or actively killing them as an act of compassion. “Then there are others who say very clearly, ‘This is not why I became a physician.’” There were “many,” in fact, who were opposed to euthanasia (though Blackmer preferred to say they were “terrified” of it.)

However, said Blackmer, “more and more doctors are saying, ‘OK, I feel more comfortable, like there might be a scenario one could imagine where this type of intervention wouldn’t be abused.’”

But not everyone sees the CMA’s process as an even-handed one. The CMA “is really pulling a fast one,” said Will Johnson, a family doctor who is head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of British Columbia. “It’s run by people who want assisted suicide and euthanasia and they are purporting a big change in the views of doctors on this. If they were sincere they would hold a referendum.”

The CMA did hold a referendum of sorts this spring as part of its review of end-of-life care. It held “town-hall” style meetings across Canada, and ran an online forum and poll. Significantly, while its report on the review noted that 80 percent of the comments on the online forum dealt with euthanasia and assisted suicide, it did not attempt to quantify the forum results or even mention the poll.

The poll results were one-sided. Out of 151 CMA members who responded, 71.5 percent supported euthanasia’s continued criminalization and only 25.8 percent opposed it.

This was not the first time Canada’s doctors declared their opposition to killing their own patients. The CMA polled its members more formally in early 2013, surveying 2,000.  Only 20 percent said they would be willing to perform euthanasia if it were legalized, 42 percent said they would not, while 23 percent said they did not know how they would respond to a request to euthanize. Forty-four percent said they would refuse to assist a suicide.

Alex Schadenberg, head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada, said at least a slight softening of doctors’ opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia was to be expected, given that, “doctors, like the rest of the public, have been subjected to a constant inundation by the media of pro-euthanasia, pro-assisted suicide arguments.” He noted that he had recently submitted an op-ed piece on the subject to six publications, none of which ran it. Said he: “The media have been intellectually one-sided.”

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