Supply of Physicians for Assisted-Suicide Dwindles

Supply of Physicians for Assisted-Suicide Dwindles

Large numbers of doctors in Canada have removed themselves from a list of medical professionals willing to offer their services for physician-assisted suicide. Last June, Canada became “one of the few nations where doctors can legally help sick people” when the necessary legislation was approved by the Senate [1]. The law outlines specific requirements, all of which must be met in order to guarantee eligibility. These include permanent residency or citizenship, mental competency, “a serious and incurable disease… and intolerable suffering” [1]. There is controversy over the vague nature of this criteria, and many doctors are concerned about the legal risks they take in labeling a patient as eligible for assisted suicide.

The legal risks, in fact, are the predominant reason behind the high dropout rate amongst doctors. Since the implementation of the new law, only 117 doctors in Ontario have expressed the desire to prescribe life-ending treatment. Of that group, 54 have since removed their names or placed themselves on hold. Many of these physicians claim that “the issue is far less about moral or psychological angst than it is about the legal ambiguities and uneasiness involved” [2]. While it is true that some individuals find the experience too emotionally draining and choose not to participate again, it is apparent that many object purely on legal grounds. Doctors perceived as violating the law are “at risk of being prosecuted for murder”, which, for numerous physicians, is a danger that severely outweighs the benefit of assisting those in need [1]. This issue is exacerbated by the relatively vague language utilized in last year’s legislation, a factor which has the potential to leave doctors’ actions at the mercy of rather subjective interpretations on behalf of lawmakers and oversight commissions.

Currently, physician-assisted suicide is not frequently practiced, with Canada witnessing only “262 completed euthanasia deaths in the first nine months of the law” [2]. It remains to be seen whether the details of the law will be amended in an effort to provide doctors with crucial clarification, guidance, and protection. Doing so could increase the availability of physicians willing to cater to the needs of despairing patients, and thus improve the quality of Canadian health care overall.

References:

  1. Kennedy, Merrit. “Canada legalizes physician-assisted dying.” National Public Radio. June 18, 2016. Accessed February 27, 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/18/482599089/canada-legalizes-physician-assisted-dying.

  2. Kirkey, Sharon. “‘Take my name off the list, I can’t do any more’: Some doctors backing out of assisted death.” National Post. February 26, 2017. Accessed February 27, 2017. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/0227-na-euthanasia

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