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Reconsidering euthanasia

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WORLD Radio - Reconsidering euthanasia

Lawmakers in Germany vote down two bills aimed at legitimizing euthanasia


The restored Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church illuminated during blue hour on April 30, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Reconsidering euthanasia in Canada and Europe.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Canada’s euthanasia regime is known as MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying. A few months ago, Canada put on hold a plan to offer MAID to people with serious mental health conditions. The reason? Medical experts said the health care system wasn’t ready for the case load.

REICHARD: And just over a week ago [July 7th] in Germany, lawmakers voted down two bills that would have legalized euthanasia for patients with excruciating pain.

Is this a shift back to reason, or just speed bumps on the road to expanding the industry of assisted death?

EICHER: Joining us now to talk about it is Alex Schadenberg. He’s the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in London, Ontario.

REICHARD: Good morning, Alex.

ALEX SCHADENBERG, GUEST: It's great being with you. And I'm glad you're dealing with these difficult topics.

REICHARD: Could you give us some background on the pattern of legalizing euthanasia? Particularly in Canada, but also if there are any parallel developments in Europe?

SCHADENBERG: Well, there were very few countries that legalized euthanasia. The Netherlands were sort of in a sense first when they legalized it in 2002. But they, in fact, had legalized it in the 70s to a court decision, and then didn't formally legalize it till 2002. But we have, there was very few countries and then in the last few years has been several that have decided to go ahead and legalize this. Nonetheless, it's actually not really a landslide is, like a lot of people would like to describe. In fact, there's been every year there's, there's multiple states and multiple countries that debate euthanasia, or assisted suicide and defeat it, and there's the odd country that goes ahead and legalize it. So you know, it's not as people like to say that there's this big push to legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia, in fact, not quite the truth.

REICHARD: I guess we need to distinguish between those two. What’s the difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide?

SCHADENBERG: Right, they're very similar, but different at the same time. So with euthanasia, it's a form of homicide. So the doctor, or nurse practitioner as it is in Canada also, would lethally inject you, they would give you, lethally injected lethal drugs into your bloodstream, you would die then by a homicide. Whereas assisted suicide is using the same drugs with the same intention but you are given or prescribed the drugs and you have to take it yourself. So one is assisting a suicide and the other is a homicide.

REICHARD: In light of Germany’s recent move to not pass these laws, do you think there’s hope for pressing back, or is the cat out of the bag?

SCHADENBERG: Well, actually, there's been lots of hope for pressing back. The situation in Germany is far more complicated, though, than that, because what happened in Germany in 2020, is in February of 2020, there was a court decision that didn't legalize assisted suicide. What it did is it said that German citizens have a right to suicide is sort of like this radical autonomy idea. Then there was another court decision in Germany in 2022, which said that they don't have a right to be prescribed drugs. So they have a right to suicide, but they don't have a right to be prescribed drugs for suicide. And then the recently the Bundestag, the parliament dealt with two bills. One was more, how would you say liberal than the other nonetheless, they debated two bills, and they voted on two bills, and they defeated both of the bills. So in fact, assisted suicide has not been legalized by the legislature, but by the courts, suicide has become a type of a right. It makes it a little bit confusing. But the fact of it is is a difference between saying you can go and kill yourself and doctors will approve it and give you those lethal drugs, there's a difference, there's a clear difference between the two and in the parliament clearly recognized that.

REICHARD: Alex, why did Canada pause expanding access to MAID earlier this year? Do you see a path towards protecting more vulnerable people or is this more likely a temporary delay?

SCHADENBERG: So what happened in Canada is that in 2021, we expanded our euthanasia law. So the original law said that---that was passed in 2016---said that a person's natural death had to be reasonably foreseeable, which wasn't defined, and it created a ton of confusion. Nonetheless, it meant that if you did not have a terminal condition, you were not qualified for MAiD euthanasia, right? And then in 2021, Bill C-7 was passed, which struck that down, but they also added to that law. And additionally, you could have euthanasia for mental illness alone. Okay. But then they put a hold on that for two years, because they said, you know, we just weren't ready to be killing people with mental illness. Yeah, just whatever that means. Anyway, that's really what they were saying we're not ready yet for this. And now they've delayed it for another year. It has more to do with the fact that after legalizing euthanasia, under Bill C-7 with for non-terminal conditions, there's been a lot of deaths of people with disabilities who made it very clear, they did not want euthanasia, they do not want to die, but they've been living in extreme poverty, or they're finding it impossible to get medical treatment, or they, they're, they're experiencing homelessness. So they're being approved for death based on their disability. So let me go back one step, when Canada got rid of that your natural death had to be reasonably foreseeable what remained in the law is that you needed to have an irremediable medical condition, which is not really defined. So what that means is people with disabilities, or almost any disability essentially qualify to be killed by lethal injection, if they ask for it, because you know, to have a disability, essentially, you have an irremediable medical condition. They didn't define it, because of course, they removed the terminal portion out of that. So there's a lot of people who have chronic conditions that you would say are irremediable. But they're not dying in any way. But these same people now qualify for what they would call medical aid and dying, which is homicide, euthanasia. And the disability community was very, very upset by the fact that people were dying without getting proper care and support that in fact, the government was trying to turn down the heat and one way to turn down the heat is to delay the next expansion. And of course, the next expansion was euthanasia for mental illness, which they had already approved. But as I say, they had set it to come into place starting in March of 2023. So by delaying it, they turned down the heat on themselves is what I would say, and I think that's what it was all about, so.

REICHARD: Is there any aspect of the euthanasia story that you think needs more attention or is being misreported in the mainstream media?

SCHADENBERG: Well, the fact of it is, is when we're talking about assisted suicide and euthanasia, there's actually always two big, big issues. The first is why was someone being approved. And you say, Oh, well, you know, the law is tied to the laws this or the laws that? Well, I can tell you in my own country, the law is not defined. But there's the second question is why are people asking for death? And I think that's the greater question because someone like me, who is opposed to killing people, I'm primarily concerned with trying to help someone who is in a situation as to why they're actually asking for it, to convince them that this is not the way out. And most people are asking for death, not because of their medical condition, but because they're experiencing loneliness. They're experiencing, you know, depression, they are feeling that their life is lacking meaning, purpose or value. They're going through a situation where they feel that death is better than continued life. And so the answer to this then is given, "Well, let's give them lethal drugs." Well, that's abandonment, okay, so when they talk about assisted suicide or euthanasia is being about freedom of choice and autonomy? No, this is a lie when you actually look at the why that people are asking for this. It's all about abandoning people in their time of need. This is what this question is essentially about. And this is not about autonomy. This is about rejection.

REICHARD: Alex Schadenberg is the Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Alex, thanks so much.

SCHADENBERG: Thank you so much.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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