By Jean Echlin RN, BScN, MScN
After 35 years of many fearing and rejecting hospice palliative care programs that provide life and death with dignity, we now have Canadians enamored with doctor provided death. The Supreme Court of Canada has abolished a portion of our Criminal Code that prohibits euthanasia and assisted suicide. They have designated physicians as the group in our society to carry out the act of putting patients to death upon request. The patient must be suffering in a manner that is intolerable to them including both psychological and physical issues.
It must be remembered that nurses work closely with doctors following their orders and monitoring patients for any positive or adverse effects to treatment. Therefore nurses will automatically be assistants and collaborators in any type of inflicted death. In addition social workers, chaplains and other members of the inter-professional team will be affected.
Inflicting death on another human being is considered the ultimate act of violence so I ask: “How dare we ask our doctors and nurses to kill us?” But this is exactly what is proposed.
In my opinion, those who opt to carry out euthanasia and assisted suicide will no longer be trusted. As well I believe that acute and long term care institutions that enable patients to be put to death will not be trusted. Persons afraid of being euthanized will avoid admission on the basis of fearing an untimely death.
Other valid questions are: “How will those who inflict death deal with the emotional/ psychological aftermath? Will they develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with its’ inherent anxiety, nightmares, depression and suicidal ideation? Will they have some type of devastating spiritual/existential struggle following the process of putting patients to death?”
There are many health care professionals who have an ethical framework that will not support participation and this must be honoured. To have any leaders or directors in our professional associations dictate to those in the trenches of front-line care on the necessity to provide euthanasia or refer to another source is unconscionable and intolerable. The last time I looked, we still live in a democratic society with freedom of belief and religion sanctioned and guarded by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Do patients have a “right” to die?
I suggest there is no choice, we all die. However we can demand from our provincial and federal politicians support for hospice palliative care that will ensure excellence in the management of pain and other noxious symptoms that cause suffering. We can call for and support quality end-of-life care for every Canadian. We can support those at highest risk in this new social disorder: the elderly; persons with physical and/or emotional disabilities; patients with chronic and life-altering or life-threatening diseases.
We can teach medical and nursing students how to support and care for those who are labeled terminally ill; continue to educate current care providers on the best practice guidelines to meet the gold standard in palliative care; support and come along side those amazing professionals and volunteers who are currently involved in providing pain and symptom management; support the development of hospice palliative care in all facilities and in our communities.
The Hospice of Windsor & Essex County is regarded as an exemplary model across our nation. The successful development of our Hospice here speaks to the outstanding citizens who have given so much to help so many. Windsor’s reputation as a caring community is now a part of our national heritage. I am proud to be part of this heritage.
Jean Echlin RN, BScN, MScN
President: Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Nurse Consultant-Palliative Care & Gerontology
Adjunct Associate Professor, Faculty of Nursing University of Windsor (ON)
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