Thanks to Massachusetts Second Thoughts for sharing this very good article: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/10/21/court_stays_off_euthanasias_slippery_slope_dimanno.html.
Some will object to its conflation of euthanasia and assisted suicide. We think it is correct to do so; these two cannot be separated. Once doctors prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to someone, there are no provisions in any of the assisted suicide laws in the US to protect a patient who might never have used them from being given them against his will, either by a well-meaning person who believes his act is euthanasia or by a murderer. There is also no provision that a person must be able to self-administer at the time the drugs are ingested; the laws say only that the drugs are intended for self-administration, and it is reasonable to assume that a terminally ill person who was perfectly able to self-administer when he got the prescription up to six months before expected death would be unable to do so when he finally decides to take them or when someone else decides to give them to him. As death nears, he could become unable to make his wishes known at all, and relatives or other caregivers could easily decide that this is what he “would want” and act on that decision. It is also inevitable that people with disabilities or who expect to be disabled will advocate for and win the “right” to be euthanized, claiming that a requirement to self-administer the drugs violates their right to equal treatment. Furthermore, in the Netherlands, a study showed that 18% of assisted suicide cases ended in euthanasia after problems occurred (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200002243420805).
We also agree that the Rassouli case discussed in the article is relevant. While this is a case involving withdrawal of treatment rather than euthanasia or assisted suicide, it is also an example of doctors’ appropriating power that should belong to the patient or, if he cannot express his own wishes, to his designated surrogates. All assisted suicide laws give excessive power to doctors, who are the sole judges of who does or does not qualify for a lethal prescription. In Oregon, only one in six patients requesting the drugs gets them. This fact is often touted as showing how careful prescribing doctors are, and perhaps it does show that. Unfortunately it also shows who is in control here, and it is not the patient. People already have control over whether they live or die, and it is with patients that that control should remain.
If a person is determined to commit suicide, no one can stop him, but we should not make our doctors and our society complicit in his death. The dangers are just too great. We are so glad our loss in Vermont did not cloud the judgement of the British Columbia appeals court, whose decision was a lot clearer headed than that of our Vermont legislators. Hopefully clearer heads will son prevail here too.