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Compassion & Choices Pres. Barbara Coombs Lee’s Statement on Canada Euthanasia Bill

The Canadian Press syndicated a story on April 26 conflating the Oregon Death with Dignity Act with Canada’s euthanasia legislation, C-14, which quoted one of Compassion & Choices’ national medical directors. The story and the quotes wrongly suggest Compassion & Choices would support euthanasia and legislation that would not require adults to be terminally ill to qualify for medical aid in dying.

These suggestions are incorrect, and such support would violate two of Compassion & Choices’ seven principles for person-centered healthcare: autonomy and self-determination. As an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years, I saw many dying patients whose autonomy and self-determination were betrayed. Compassion & Choices would not violate these principles.

Euthanasia and medical aid in dying are vastly different. Medical aid in dying gives the terminally ill person, and only that person, the option to decide, in consultation with their family and physician, and in accordance with their faith or spiritual values, if and when to take the medication to shorten an unbearable dying process. This is critically important: more than one-third of Oregonians who obtain aid-in-dying medication do not to take it. Nevertheless, they experience the palliative benefit of being able to make a decision about the duration and severity of pain and suffering in the dying process.

Compassion & Choices advocates for medical aid in dying because the dying person controls the process from beginning to the end. We do not support euthanasia because someone else — not the dying person — may choose and act to cause death.

Requiring that only terminally ill, mentally capable adults are eligible for medical aid in dying is a proven model for a safe and effective practice in Oregon and other U.S. states for more than 30 years. On the other hand, we respect the cultural differences of other nations, including our neighbors in Canada, and their sovereign right to craft laws their citizens’ support.

The quotes cited in the context of The Canadian Press story about the Canada euthanasia bill do not represent our experience, our philosophy or our advocacy.