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Canada Sep 14, 2017

Euthanasia culture eroding health care, opponents say

By Deborah Gyapong

Father Tim Moyle says there is a "moral cost being paid by medical staff" under Quebec’s euthanasia law. (Photo via Father Moyle's blog, "Where the Rubber Hits the Road.")

OTTAWA (CCN)—The case of a Quebec man who died last June allegedly after being refused treatment for a bladder infection is not unusual, say opponents of euthanasia.

Father Tim Moyle, a priest from the Pembroke diocese that straddles Ontario and Quebec, has said he knows of two other cases where patients were refused treatment for bladder infections based on quality-of-life considerations.  In one case the patient died; in the other, the family was able to force the hospital to treat the patient, who recovered.  

“These cases are not isolated,” said Aubert Martin, executive director of Vivre dans la Dignite, (Living with Dignity) a grassroots organization opposed to euthanasia, in an email. “When we add the huge number of reported medical errors occurring every year, we are seeing more clearly the real tangible dangers of introducing euthanasia into our health-care system.”

It’s not only the introduction of legalized killing, but also a “cultural vision centred on the quality of life and on the measurability and usefulness of every human life ... to decide whether to preserve it or not,” said Martin. “And this social model is growing subtly as a cancer in our society.”

Martin pointed to a 2016 case in British Columbia of a woman who chose to die by lethal injection rather than receive treatment for what her relatives said was likely a bladder infection.

The Quebec man, Herman Morin, 65, had been told he had a year to live while undergoing treatment for stage-four prostate cancer.

In a complaint filed July 31 with a Quebec health agency governing hospitals, his wife Mary Lucille Durocher alleges a hospital doctor refused to treat her husband’s infection because he “knew Herman had cancer in the bone and it was spreading to the liver, therefore it was better to let him die from the infection in a week or 10 days than to allow him to live for a year or more and suffer in the final stages of the cancer.”

“These were definitely not mine or Herman’s wishes and we very clearly indicated this to the doctor,” she says in her complaint. Durocher told CCN her husband wished to remain alive so he could see his daughters graduate from university and college.

On Facebook, Father Moyle wrote, “Are you familiar with the Catholic concept of concupiscence? Essentially it means that after you do something once, it becomes morally easier to do it again. So if doctors become inured to dispatching patients to the great beyond under one set of circumstances, it is easier and easier for them to do it under different ones. This is the moral cost being paid by medical staff under Bill 52 [Quebec’s euthanasia law].”

Martin shares a similar view: “There is a real danger that those physicians get accustomed to seeing death as the response to suffering, and may be inclined to suggest such an avenue instead of potential curing treatments, and they may even come to make the decision themselves instead of asking the patient, based on ‘their experience.’”

Dr. Catherine Ferrier, a family physician and president of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, said in an email there is such a thing as a “good limitation or withdrawal of treatment.”

There may be underlying medical circumstances we are unaware of, and the possibility of miscommunication between the doctor and patient, but “’beneficial’ is a subjective term, that can generally not be decided unilaterally by a doctor,” she said.

“For other patients coming into the hospital, my suggestion would be to always have a family member or other person to advocate for them,” Dr. Ferrier said. “If the doctor or other professionals seem to be making bad decisions, first try to reach an understanding with that person. There may be a communication problem. If that isn't possible or doesn't work, ask to speak to their superior. Everyone has one.”

According to Father Moyle, there was no miscommunication in the Morin case or in the other two he knows of. In all cases, it was clearly stated there was no value in the treatment based on quality of life, and in two of them, both the family and the patient demanded treatment, the priest said.

Even with current euthanasia laws, a patient’s consent still matters, said Dr. Ferrier.
“The law says that a doctor must obtain consent from a patient - or the patient's family if he is incapable - for anything he does to or for the patient,” Ferrier said. “If there is no legal decision-maker, the default is the closest family member. If the patient is still capable, it's his decision.”

In her complaint, Durocher alleged the doctors had increased Morin’s morphine to 15 times what he was receiving at home. He died June 16, four days after being admitted to hospital.

“To increase morphine contrary to the patient's and family's wishes is bad medicine,” Dr. Ferrier said. “To not treat something - such as a bladder infection - on purpose, where the treatment would be beneficial to the patient, is also bad medicine,” she said. “Obviously the doctor would argue that it wouldn't have been beneficial.”

While Father Moyle believes these cases are an effect of Canada and Quebec’s euthanasia laws, Ferrier believes the opposite. “This kind of attitude among some health professionals has been around for a long time and may be a contributing cause rather than an effect of the euthanasia law,” she said.