Physician Assisted Suicide’s Slippery Slope

by Christopher White, CBC Director of Research and Education on February 3, 2016

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A common argument often heard in the debates over physician assisted suicide is that it will only be used for terminally ill patients. Indeed, in Oregon—the state that first legalized the practice in the United States and has become the model for other legalization attempts—the patient must be deemed to have less than six months to live for a doctor to prescribe the lethal medication. But as we learned long ago from Belgium, such limits hardly hold for long before anyone can request (read: demand!) to be able to utilize the practice. And as our neighbors in Canada are learning very quickly, it’s hard to resist.

Last year the Canadian Supreme Court mandated that all provinces must implement proper guidelines for physician assisted suicide that would go into effect this month. Again, presumably the practice would be limited to the terminally ill and the motivation is to help curtail pain and suffering of the dying. But as usual, the limits are already being tested as a woman in Winnipeg is aiming to challenge the law and allow her to receive the drugs to end her life because she is depressed.

Belgium has long embraced the idea that depressed patients should be able to end their lives under its physician assisted suicide laws—and now it seems that Canada may soon follow that same trajectory. This is precisely the definition of a slippery slope.

Advocates of physician assisted suicide will tell you that their motivation is simply to help end pain. But as this woman’s case evidences, “pain” takes on varied forms for different people. Of course, that’s why we believe that doctors should only be about the business of healing and caring for those in pain—not killing them. Sadly, in places like Canada and Belgium, we’re in the minority.

Image by ryan melaugh via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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