Euthanasia Kits, Conscience rights and Coercion

The country that gave us Celine Dion, Mike Myers and Joni Mitchell is now giving doctors euthanasia kits?

As I wrote in a September blog “Disaster in Canada, this past February, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled to end the long-standing ban on physician-assisted suicide and gave federal and provincial governments 12 months to craft legislation to respond to the ruling. Despite concerns raised by opponents of assisted suicide, the Canadian supreme court agreed with the trial court that physician-assisted suicide laws like that in Oregon has curtailed such abuses and missteps. “The risks associated with physician-assisted suicide,” the high court stated, “can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards.

But even before such legislation is made, Canada’s second largest province Quebec is jumping to allow to active euthanasia via lethal injections.

In a shocking article in the British Medical Journal titled “’Euthanasia kits’ are prepared for Quebec doctors as palliative care centres rebel on right to die” , new guidelines from the College of Medicine in Quebec on physician-assisted suicide include “euthanasia kits”. These kits contain three sequential injections: a benzodiazepine sedative to relieve anxiety, a barbiturate to induce coma, and a curare-type neuromuscular block to stop the heart and respiration with backup doses, and detailed instructions. These kits will be available to all licensed physicians in Quebec. (Emphasis added)

Ironically, this lethal injection protocol mimics the lethal injection protocols used in the US for executions that are now being challenged by groups like the ACLU as “cruel” and “inhumane.”

The rationale for doctor-administered lethal injections over the self-administered oral lethal overdoses just signed into law in California is explained in the BMJ article:

The college decided that doctors should administer the drugs intravenously rather than simply prescribe an oral drug. Yves Robert, secretary of the college, said that this had involved seeking advice from abroad, including speaking to the first doctor to legally prescribe life ending drugs in Oregon, USA, nearly 20 years ago. “He told us there were some bad side effects,” Robert said, including regurgitation and, in a few cases, reawakening days later.” (Emphasis added)

Apparently, the annual Oregon state health reports on assisted suicide that rely merely on the assisting doctors’ self-reporting of problems are not much of a “safeguard”. Nonetheless, all the public (and the Canadian supreme court) continues to hear is that physician-assisted suicide laws are working well without any problems.


But the existence of euthanasia kits is not the whole story.

As the BMJ article reports, all 29 of Quebec’s palliative care centers announced a collective decision not to offer physician-assisted suicide, now renamed “medical aid in dying.” At least for now.

One director stated that “There is no doctor here who’s willing to push that syringe.”

This refusal has apparently enraged physician-assisted suicide supporters like Gaétan Barrette, Quebec’s health minister, who stated:

“Once again, this is a comment that prioritizes the views of the physician, when the law is made for the patient,” said Barrette. “I have a very formal announcement to make to these doctors: physicians, nowhere in Quebec, are owners of the institution. Not of the institution, nor of the floor, nor of a single bed. In no way can a doctor say: ‘In room 326, this will never happen.’ That is completely inappropriate.”

So now there are now efforts to challenge the conscience rights of objecting doctors.

Euthanasia/assisted suicide supporters know that without enough medical professionals willing to perform medicalized killing, the movement itself is dead.

Unfortunately, such supporters have had better luck in the US with convincing groups like the California Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, The American College of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association and American Medical Women’s Association and The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine to support legalized physician-assisted suicide or take a “neutral” position using polls, not principles.

It is a myth that physician-assisted suicide will only ever involve oral lethal overdoses requested by terminally ill patients in unbearable pain. As we have seen with the relentless progression of medically assisted killing in Holland, Luxembourg, and Belgium, it is just a matter of time before lethal injections are considered more humane than unreliable oral overdoses and the pool of potential victims expands beyond the terminally ill and just those who request it.

Tragically, it is a very short step from saying “I would not want to live like that” to saying “No one should live like that.”

Like those doctors of conscience in Quebec, those of us in the US who are also medical professionals need to be our own Resistance Movement against medicalized killing and the efforts to coerce us into participating.