Monday, December 08, 2014

National Post commentator makes up stuff about assisted dying

Andrew Coyne, well-known conservative part of Canada's commentariat, makes up stuff about assisted dying today. He deploys in his commentary pretty much every variety of slippery slope arguments that is known to humankind (they're usually all false, folks learn that in Logic101 classes). Bioethics students to the front. Whoever finds the most errors in Coyne's piece wins my last book :).  Inbox me with your findings.

This is in part what he writes:

"Udo Schuklenk, professor of bioethics at Queen’s University and chair of the Royal Society of Canada’s panel on “End of Life Decision Making,” recently published a paper advocating the euthanizing, with parents’ consent, of infants with severe deformities, a practice he likened to “post-natal abortion.” Eike-Henner Kluge, former director of ethics for the Canadian Medical Association, has made similar arguments for including the mentally incompetent among those eligible for euthanization. This is hardly a theoretical concern. In countries where assisted suicide/euthanasia has been legalized, it is increasingly the practice. Belgium, where euthanasia on the Quebec model has been legal since 2002, this year extended it to children, joining the Netherlands, where it has been lawful since the 1990s. In Switzerland it is permitted to euthanize the mentally ill. And the list continues to grow: prisoners serving life sentences are the latest addition. What begins in compassion, it seems, ends in eugenics."

Let me just note here that my contribution didn't once mention 'severe deformities', but hey.  I didn't even mention deformity by some other name as a relevant decision-making criterion. Making up stuff - steady as they write.

Coyne then claims that infanticide is increasingly the practice in countries where assisted suicide and/or euthanasia have been legalized. It turns that the published data cited in my paper show that the opposite is actually the case. Cases whereby the lives of newborns have been terminated whose continuing life-preserving treatment would have been futile have halved in the Netherlands (one of Coyne's straw men) since the mid 1990. Worth noting, virtually all of these life endings were not caused by acts of euthanasia, the act that excites Coyne so much. So, assisted dying does demonstrably not lead to a situation where infanticide is increasingly the practice, the opposite is the case actually.

Slippery slopes typically claim (as Coyne does) that as a result of the slippery slope more (rather than less) cases of something wrong occur. Coyne doesn't even engage the question of whether there might be good reason for why these newborns' lives were terminated by active means or by means of withholding life-preserving care. To him it's all bad. Nothing wrong with living life in a simple world unencumbered by facts. In this case, it's a world of make-belief, because these kinds of cases actually halved in number since the mid 1990.  Then Coyne moves seamlessly from infanticide to the mentally ill. Well, mental illness doesn't necessarily render you incompetent, legally or ethically.

Coyne's apocalyptic journey ends where it must end, in good ol eugenics. Case closed. Has he provided any evidence for this claim at least. Oops, no, that's where this rambling anti-euthanasia commentary abruptly ends.

Let me leave you with a bit more of Coyne's musings. He writes in the same piece, 'Advocates, impatient with such arbitrary distinctions as that between suicide and assisted suicide — of what use is the right to kill oneself, they ask, if you are physically incapable of carrying it out? — are nevertheless at pains to preserve the distinction between terminal illness and mere depression...' . I'm not a professional commentator, so let me just note with some bewilderment that I do indeed think that there's a different between what's commonly understood to be a terminal illness (say, late-stage cancer) and depression. They are simply different kinds of illnesses, one kills ya, the other one doesn't. Apparently, to a commentator on a roll it's all the same, kinda.

I'm always puzzled under what rocks major news organizations find these people. In the good old days they'd have had fact checkers at least that would have fixed (and re-written) Coyne's piece, today, they write and upload at manic speed. Oh well.


  1. what can I add? I am speechless once more. Francesca

  2.'s too bad we can't access your article so we could see for ourselves what you actually wrote. Is it accessible anywhere that doesn't require a paid subscription?

  3. just email me, i'll send you a copy...

  4. Mr. Schuklenk your published views advocating for euthanasia for infants with disabilities are so immoral and against the Nature. How come you are bioethics professor. Should the ethicist be moral?. The university should let you go long time ago., It didn't because the university destroy the knowledge as well. Poor new generation of students study in those brain washing university