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

Photo: Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee

Last Friday, Canada’s Parliament passed a law authorizing both medical aid in dying and euthanasia as end-of-life options for mentally capable, grievously ill adults with a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death. It is important to note that medical aid in dying and euthanasia are vastly different medical practices.

Medical aid in dying enables a terminally ill adult to obtain medication and administer it to themselves, if they choose, to end a prolonged or agonized dying process. Compassion & Choices advocates for medical aid in dying because only the terminally ill person controls the process from beginning to end. We do not support euthanasia, because it authorizes someone else – a physician or other person — to administer the aid-in-dying medication.

As a result, euthanasia violates 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.

In contrast to euthanasia, medical aid in dying gives only the terminally ill 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 self-administration requirement is important because more than one-third of Oregonians who obtain aid-in-dying medication do not to take it. Nevertheless, they experience the palliative benefit of knowing they can determine the duration and severity of pain and suffering they endure in the dying process.

Beyond our own advocacy, we respect the cultural differences of other nations, including our neighbors in Canada, and their sovereign right to craft laws supported by their citizens.