Journalists writing about assisted dying continue to raise the spectre of abuse, and argue that those who oppose legalisation of assisted dying have a legitimate concern. Tasha Kheiriddin does it again in her latest opinion piece in the National Post. It reminds me of Victor Malarek’s misleading ending to his W5 documentary on assisted dying, where he got away with saying at the end, simply on the basis of a supposed expert’s opinion that ”It’s really scary what’s out there.” And Lloyd Robertson gave him the support that he wanted by saying something about ‘good arguments on both sides,’ which was as far from the truth revealed in the documentary itself as it could be. In the end, Dr. José Pereira was given the last word. He was the supposed expert, because he had written what must be one of the least well-documented articles on assisted dying in existence, one that was subsequently panned by real bioethicists. Indeed, in their paper, Downie, Chambaere and Bernheim state:
Pereira’s conclusions are not supported by the evidence he provided. His paper should not be given any credence in the public policy debate about the legal status of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada and around the world.
Pereira is a Roman Catholic hack, whatever his expertise in end-of-life care, and his paper is not only not worth reading, but a positive impediment to clear thinking on the issue. I said this in a response to Pereira which I wrote myself and sent to the programme’s producers, but they lent it no credence. I wonder if they are willing to change their mind now that Downie et al., and for similar reasons, have dismissed it so decisively.
However the trend continues. Tasha Kheiriddin, in what appears to be a perfectly innocuous piece (linked above), in which she describes, quite dispassionately, it seems, the assisted dying law that seems likely to pass into law in Quebec, and the provisions that would have protected her father from the abuse she imagines, goes on to say, without the slightest bit of evidence:
The fear of groups opposed to right-to-die laws, like that proposed in Quebec, is that people like my father might be euthanized against their will. This is a legitimate concern; there are always situations where unscrupulous relatives or caregivers could prey on vulnerable persons.
Why is it a legitimate concern? In jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal, there is no evidence of the kinds of abuse Kheiriddin imagines. Indeed, she fails to put assisted dying into contexts where there is an equal possibility of abuse, but which are completely legal. People can refuse treatment and have treatment withdrawn without any intervention by the law, even though such refusal, or such withdrawal will lead to their deaths, and yet in these cases the possibility of abuse is just as high as it is in cases of active assistance to die. Indeed, bioethicists have been unable to find morally relevant differences between supposedly passive acts of euthanasia, and more positive ones. Why do journalists like Kheiriddin feel the need to pander to the anti-assisted dying lobby every time they write something? Or do newspapers have a policy which requires that the whole issue be treated as a very difficult, serious issue, by giving voice to the “scary things” that are “out there”, whether there are such scary things or not? It’s a bit like teaching intelligent design in biology classes, whatever the evidence says. Each “side” must be given its due, even if there aren’t two sides to every story. Continue reading