That, at least, is what appears to be happening in Canada.
Since last year, Canadian law, in all its majesty, has allowed both the rich as well as the poor to kill themselves if they are too poor to continue living with dignity. In fact, the ever-generous Canadian state will even pay for their deaths. What it will not do is spend money to allow them to live instead of killing themselves.
. . .
[In 2016] Parliament duly enacted legislation allowing euthanasia, but only for those who suffer from a terminal illness whose natural death was ‘reasonably foreseeable’.
It only took five years for the proverbial slope to come into view, when the Canadian parliament enacted Bill C-7, a sweeping euthanasia law which repealed the ‘reasonably foreseeable’ requirement – and the requirement that the condition should be ‘terminal’. Now, as long as someone is suffering from an illness or disability which ‘cannot be relieved under conditions that you consider acceptable’, they can take advantage of what is now known euphemistically as ‘medical assistance in dying’ (MAID for short) for free.
Soon enough, Canadians from across the country discovered that although they would otherwise prefer to live, they were too poor to improve their conditions to a degree which was acceptable.
Not coincidentally, Canada has some of the lowest social care spending of any industrialised country, palliative care is only accessible to a minority, and waiting times in the public healthcare sector can be unbearable, to the point where the same Supreme Court which legalised euthanasia declared those waiting times to be a violation of the right to life back in 2005.
Many in the healthcare sector came to the same conclusion. Even before Bill C-7 was enacted, reports of abuse were rife. A man with a neurodegenerative disease testified to Parliament that nurses and a medical ethicist at a hospital tried to coerce him into killing himself by threatening to bankrupt him with extra costs or by kicking him out of the hospital, and by withholding water from him for 20 days. Virtually every disability rights group in the country opposed the new law. To no effect: for once, the government found it convenient to ignore these otherwise impeccably progressive groups.
Since then, things have only gotten worse. A woman in Ontario was forced into euthanasia because her housing benefits did not allow her to get better housing which didn’t aggravate her crippling allergies. Another disabled woman applied to die because she ‘simply cannot afford to keep on living’. Another sought euthanasia because Covid-related debt left her unable to pay for the treatment which kept her chronic pain bearable – under the present government, disabled Canadians got $600 in additional financial assistance during Covid; university students got $5,000.
When the family of a 35-year-old disabled man who resorted to euthanasia arrived at the care home where he lived, they encountered ‘urine on the floor… spots where there was feces on the floor… spots where your feet were just sticking. Like, if you stood at his bedside and when you went to walk away, your foot was literally stuck.’ According to the Canadian government, the assisted suicide law is about ‘prioritis[ing] the individual autonomy of Canadians’; one may wonder how much autonomy a disabled man lying in his own filth had in weighing death over life.
Despite the Canadian government’s insistence that assisted suicide is all about individual autonomy, it has also kept an eye on its fiscal advantages. Even before Bill C-7 entered into force, the country’s Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report about the cost savings it would create … Healthcare, particular for those suffering from chronic conditions, is expensive; but assisted suicide only costs the taxpayer $2,327 per ‘case’. And, of course, those who have to rely wholly on government-provided Medicare pose a far greater burden on the exchequer than those who have savings or private insurance.
There’s more at the link.
It’s not just Canada, of course. In Holland, euthanasia has been administered by doctors hundreds of times without the patient’s consent. That nation has also implemented the so-called “Groningen Protocol“, where doctors can decide on child euthanasia on their own initiative, without fear of prosecution. Britain developed the notorious “Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient” (since officially withdrawn, but allegedly still unofficially applied), which allowed the withdrawal of medical care, food and even fluids in an attempt to hasten the dying of patients deemed incurable. This could be done without the patient’s or their family’s consent – involuntary euthanasia by another name. The Pathway even paid cash incentives to hospitals according to the number of patients treated in this way. Needless to say, financial factors appeared to drive decisions about the “incurability” of patients. Scarce resources had to be applied to the “greatest good”; so if you were elderly or very ill, spending them on you might be less “optimum” than letting you die and using your bed for someone else. I could mention other countries as examples, but those two will do for now.
In the USA, the state is responsible for a great deal of medical care through government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration. In 2019 (the last year for which I was able to find accurate figures), the first two consumed $1.413 trillion: and the latter is on course to spend another $340 billion in the current financial year. Together, they approach $2 trillion per year in government spending. With that sort of money involved, the pressures to save money wherever they can are enormous. Euthanasia is illegal in the USA, but “assisted suicide” is legal in several states; and it’s already being encouraged as a “treatment option” to patients in some medical systems. Don’t believe that? See the National Council on Disability’s reports on the issue. In an overview of the field, the NCD states:
In the report, NCD details limitations of purported safeguards of assisted suicide laws, finding:
- Insurers have denied expensive, life-sustaining medical treatment, but offered to subsidize lethal drugs, potentially leading patients to hasten their own deaths;
- Misdiagnoses of terminal disease can cause frightened patients to hasten their deaths;
- Though fear and depression often drive requests for assisted suicide, referral for psychological evaluation is extremely rare prior to doctors writing lethal prescriptions;
- Financial and emotional pressures can distort patient choice;
- Patients may “doctor shop” limitlessly to find a physician who will obtain a colleague’s concurrence and prescribe a lethal dose
“As someone who has battled cancer and been given weeks to live and am still thriving years later, I know firsthand that well-intending doctors are often wrong,” said Mr. Romano. “If assisted suicide is legal, lives will be lost due to mistakes, abuse, lack of information, or a lack of better options; no current or proposed safeguards can change that.”
Again, more at the link.
This is even affecting private medical insurers, who are increasingly refusing to fund expensive medical treatments, but are willing to pay for assisted suicide. A few examples:
- Assisted-suicide law prompts insurance company to deny coverage to terminally ill California woman
- Doctor: Insurance Wouldn’t Pay for Patients’ Treatments, but Offered Assisted Suicide
- Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon: Oregon woman denied drugs for lung cancer, but offered assisted-death drugs
That’s what happens when we cease to think of human life as having any sort of intrinsic value, a special quality, a “soul”, absent from other forms of life. Religious faith gave us that concept, and enshrined it in law for centuries. Now that religious faith is waning, so is the concept of the “soul” and respect for human life. As a man of faith, I find that horrifying – but many would no longer agree that it is.
Nor is this an issue affecting only the elderly. Any of us can be struck down by illness or accident at any time. If we are, we’re increasingly likely to have to face such pressures, for ourselves and for our loved ones. We’ll do well to start thinking about them now, and how we’ll handle them.