Sunday, July 19, 2009

Canadian doctors move on Right-to-Die issue

Interesting stuff. Doctors in the French speaking Canadian province of Quebec are bound to issue a discussion document this coming fall proposing that voluntary euthanasia be legalised under certain circumstances, namely in case of terminally ill patients suffering severe pain.

The Montreal Gazette points out that the Quebecoise electorate has been more progressive than voters in other Canadian provinces, with about 80% favouring the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. Conservative religious people are naturally not bemused, and their lobbyists dragged out flawed stuff like the doctrine of the double-effect and the intention-foresight distinction.

Simply put: these people believe that if someone dies as a foreseeable side-effect of having received large quantities of pain killers that is not euthanasia provided the doctor's decision was to relief pain and not to kill the patient. Of course, the effect is the same: the patient dies as a foreseeable consequence of her doctor's intervention. To say that I don't mean to do X when I know that X is the inevitable result of my actions is probably intelligible (after all, I might accept X as an unwanted but inevitable thing, in order to achieve something else, say the alleviation of pain). And yet, it seems deeply dishonest to go on about this distinction when it is clear that I will kill a given patient if I intervene in a particular way (even if my intention is otherwise). Seems like camomile for the tortured guilty conscience. Perhaps it is time to consider whether it would be better to permit people legal access to this option to avoid endless probes into doctors' intentions. It would appear to be more sensible to focus on the outcomes of actions and decide whether or not they are desirable. The double-effect doctrine and the intention-foresight distinction are not particularly helpful, when looked at from this perspective.

Canada at this point in time outlaws voluntary euthanasia, as well as physician assisted suicide (in this case the doctor would not administer the drug to terminate your life, she would only make them available to you so that you can commit suicide yourself if you so wish).

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