Physicians at SickKids discuss euthanasia for children
In 2015, when the Supreme Court struck down the law against euthanasia, it dealt another blow to the dignity of human life. Canadian law now glorifies death as an autonomous choice.
As if the list of people eligible to receive death at the hands of doctors was not long enough, Canadians are already discussing extending euthanasia to minors. In an essay entitled, “Medical Assistance in Dying at a paediatric hospital,” three university professors explore how the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, ON, might euthanize minors if (and possibly when) the age limit of 18 is lowered. Two of them work at SickKids.
The professors contend that euthanasia is practically and ethically equivalent to other medical practices at the end of life, such as removing life support. Essentially, they centre their ethic on the patient’s experience rather than the doctor’s actions.
They then describe three applications of this premise.
- Communication: The patient, not the doctor, should initiate a conversation about assisted suicide, but a paediatric patient can start this conversation in a variety of ways, including by expressing suffering and a desire to die. The professors are also uneasy about paediatric patients not knowing all the options, so they say we should revisit the issue of communication when controversy over “assisted dying” begins to settle.
- Capacity: In general, the authors point out, a doctor may decide that a minor is capable of making her own health care decisions. Although they express some uneasiness, they conclude that this individuated approach, without an age limit, should also apply to “assisted dying.”
- Confidentiality: Though expressing some uncertainty here, again, the authors recommend that a capable minor should be allowed to decide whether to consult family or parents.
The above recommendations are absurd. Euthanasia is clearly different from “pulling the plug.” Assisted suicide actively intends and causes a patient’s death. while other end of life practices merely withdraw treatment and do not necessarily intend death. Further, “assisted dying” gives power over a patient’s life to a physician in a way that a patient’s decision to forego a treatment does not. Allow me to comment on each of the above recommendations:
- Communication: I agree that a health care provider should not start a conversation about euthanasia. The Canadian Criminal Code (section 241) prohibits, without exception counseling or abetting suicide. Doctors must take extreme caution not to encourage a person to choose euthanasia, especially in the case of minors. In fact, they should encourage people against it.
- Capacity: Research in neurology and brain development calls into question minors’ decision-making capacity, since they lack experience and often rely on emotional responses. Children are also easily manipulated without recognizing it.
- Confidentiality: Canadian law recognizes that parents have the right and responsibility to do what is best for their child. Further, parents help to develop their child’s independence in the first place, while putting limits on it. Minors need to get parental consent for something such as a tattoo or a piercing, for example. How much more does that principle apply to a life or death decision? Parents need to be involved. However, if parents fail to act in the best interest of their child, such as by encouraging their child to ask for death, then others should intervene. No one should influence a person to choose euthanasia, and if parents do this, they have negated their authority.
Canada’s decision to legalize euthanasia is tragic, but we must fight for the dignity of life and against the expansion of euthanasia. Some powerful people want to make Canada’s most vulnerable individuals susceptible as well.
We cannot let suicide become a normal phenomenon. Rather, we must remember that all people are made in God’s image. We must stand against euthanizing minors, or anyone else.
There are other ways to alleviate suffering. One practical way is through palliative care. Yet, it is not only health care providers who can help those in need. We, as individual Christians, are called to serve where we can as well. We must remind those around us that God created life, and that we should uphold it. Even if someone is experiencing grievous suffering, we can encourage them that their life is not meaningless because of it.
Ultimately, Canada needs the Gospel, so that people remember the purpose of life and the meaning of suffering.