In Canada and Quebec, the debate over the right to die with dignity, medically assisted suicide, and euthanasia is often heated. I am struck by the inconsistency, perhaps even hypocrisy, of governments that maintain that it is OK for individuals to commit suicide, but not to receive help from anyone to do so. I am also distressed that the discussion around legalizing assisted suicide almost always refers to “physician assisted suicide”. As a physician, helping someone to kill himself or herself puts me in a conflict of interest, so it is something I would refuse to do. But that does not mean I am against the idea of sedating someone in terrible pain, if that is the only way to control the pain, and even if the sedation might hasten death.
Why should physicians need to be involved in assisted suicide at all? Because the drugs that kill cleanly are available only by prescription? Not a good reason. If someone can commit suicide by going to a Baron store here in Montreal to buy firearms and ammunition, or to a Canadian Tire outlet for warfarin, why not to a drugstore for 10 grams of sodium pentothal to be taken by mouth or in suppository form? The expertise of a physician is unnecessary, even for intravenous injection.
We already have laws against murder, which will continue to apply if there is any suspicion that the person whose suicide is being assisted may not have given full and informed consent. Countries like Germany and Switzerland have managed to draft laws making assisted suicide legal; surely our legislators are capable of doing the same. And at the same time they could remove sodium pentothal from the list of prescription-only drugs, but with appropriate safeguards as for firearms.
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