Canada's law legalizing euthanasia, Bill C-14, was passed in the Canadian parliament in June 2016, and although accompanied by many safeguards, the legislation declared that Canadians have a constitutional right to physician-assisted death. However, most Canadian doctors are reluctant to help end a life. 

In a 2016 decision, the court declared that although the policy does limit doctors’ religious freedom, the decision is justified because the benefits to the public outweigh the moral cost to doctors. They can, the court said, practice a specialty where moral questions will not occur. In other words, if you don't like it, find some other medical field. 

The court, reflecting government policy, evidently believes that the constitutional right of a patient to have her life ended trumps doctor’s constitutional right to obey his conscience, which usually means his religious views. Yet, a 2016 survey of 1407 doctors conducted by the Canadian Medical Association found that 63 percent of them opposed euthanasia. 

“The goal of ensuring access to health care, in particular equitable access to health care, is pressing and substantial. The effective referral requirements of the policies are rationally connected to the goal,” Justice Herman J. Wilton-Siegel wrote. “The requirements impair the individual applicants’ right of religious freedom as little as reasonably possible in order to achieve the goal.” 

That, of course, remains to be seen. 

What has happened is that the government creates a "right" where none existed before, and throws off the balance, making it difficult for physicians to obey; physicians whose lives have been dedicated to saving their patients. To refer a patient to another practitioner who will carry out the death sentence does not absolve the doctor from participation in the deed.

It's important to realize that those who are already elderly are at risk, and those of us who have not yet reached the "golden years" are at risk too. Perhaps the latter are more at risk because in later years the government may have quashed all opposition. As the years go by, so does the possibility that a patient's survival will be threatened after her usefulness can no longer be assumed. Will there be any guarantee that the patient will enjoy her golden years at all?

The assumption behind this view seems to be that suffering is unavoidable and that the sooner the patient is euthanized the better. This view ignores the fact that proper palliative care can reduce physical pain greatly, almost to the point of elimination in many instances.

In the case of my wife's battle with cancer, she spent a great deal of time in palliative care. I have to say that if there are any angels on earth it is the nurses in palliative care. They were loving and cheerful without being obnoxiously hearty. They never used the word death once. When I asked why, I was told "because we have seen patients who we were sure would not survive, yet in a few weeks they walked out completely cured."

Good palliative care consists, in part, by knowing how to treat pain with appropriate dosages of morphine. It is also these angels in human guise who can offer help, support and that essential quality - love.

So often the patents knowledge that they are loved can alleviate their desire for the cessation of all feeling. It lets them know that life, despite its pain and sorrow, may be worth living after all. 

  Photo by joyce huis on Unsplash