Alan Nichols was “basically pronounced dead” at a Toronto hospital, his brother Gary told The Associated Press. Nichols was 61 years old with a history of depression. When he was admitted to the hospital and put on suicide watch, he told his brother to “get him out” as soon as possible.
According to the AP story, “Her euthanasia application listed only one medical condition as the cause of her death request: hearing loss.”
In the report, the director of the University of British Columbia’s Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship – a right-wing think tank – was quoted as saying that Canada’s current euthanasia laws “probably pose the greatest existential threat to people with disabilities since the Nazis.” program in Germany in the 1930s.
If you are incapacitated under Canadian law, you can choose death. In recent months there have been reports of Canadians seeking assisted suicide without adequate health care or housing help.
Aaron Kheriati, a psychiatrist and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argued in a 2019 New Atlantis article titled “First, Take No Stand” that medical associations paved the way for the current legalization of assisted suicide, which is often supported by medical associations. Take an “unambiguous” neutral position when faced with state or national laws. California and Canada are both examples. “The story is a growing scandal for the medical profession,” Kheriati wrote. “But it’s not too late to undo it.”
“A neutral position,” he argues, “is not really possible on the legal question of whether assisted suicide should be allowed. To say that some doctors can do it if they want and others can choose not to is to take a stand in favor of allowing the practice.”
Nichols’ story offers us an opportunity to rethink how we treat our most vulnerable. Debates about culture and law, however, cannot be separated from the pervasive isolation that plagues our culture. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017 found that 56% of physician-assisted suicide deaths in the Netherlands were related to loneliness.
In his book “The Crisis of US Hospice Care: Family and Independence at Life,” Harold Braswell wrote about the importance of doing more for people with terminal conditions. He argues that regardless of one’s position on assisted suicide and euthanasia, there is room for common ground, especially in the care of patients who die in the absence of family support.
He highlights Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta, which provides long-term in-patient care for the dying. This Catholic religious group is run by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and how it works with secular hospices to care for patients who are too expensive for standard care. The two employees “worked together because they had a common goal: to provide the best possible care to dying people,” Braswell wrote. Such on-the-ground partnerships show how to increase independence while caring for the dying, Braswell argues.
Assisted suicide is a divisive topic. But we should not let politics and economics drive these debates. One way to do this is through increased donations to the Dominican Sisters and organizations like them. The future of the way we care for each other demands a renewal in the way we care for the dying, and the prioritization of that work in families and in our care systems. This is great work.
The Nicholas family was dismayed that Alan’s death appeared to be accepted in part on the basis of his hearing loss. But the hospital, the police and the state government say that there is nothing wrong according to the law. Rethinking and cutting these laws requires being human, not partisan, a priority.
(Catherine Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.”).