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Warning given to avoid use of pro-death language such as terms “euthanasia”, “assisted suicide”

This past weekend’s International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide hosted by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada (EPCC) hosted in Toronto, brought together over three hundred participants from around the world. By far the largest symposium of its kind ever, the event drew to Toronto key experts in the area of law, medicine, political activism and the rights of people with disabilities.

Key players in the movement spoke to the role of broad coalitions of people who successfully halted attempts at pro-euthanasia legislation in England and Wales, California and Vermont. Speakers from the state of Oregon and the Netherlands spoke to the increasingly corrosive effects of legalized euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in those jurisdictions upon the integrity of the medical profession and the failure of safeguards to protect vulnerable people.

Disability rights leaders expressed their growing fears about the corrosive effects of a favourable attitude towards euthanasia upon their basic civil rights, as well as their particularly effective role in fending off such legislation.

Alison Davis, who runs the “No Less Human,” a group for people with disabilities from the UK, gave a compelling account of her struggles to overcome her disabling condition. She emphasized that she likely would not have been speaking at the conference had the laws in the United Kingdom allowed for euthanasia or doctor assisted suicide back when she suffering from severe depression that she has since learned to overcome.

Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, Henk Reitsma from the Netherlands, and Mrs Barbara Farlow, a resident of Mississauga, Ontario, shared their real life experiences of having to deal with the deaths of relatives that were hastened as a consequence of medical practices determined by current dangerous attitudes towards the elderly, disabled and terminally ill.

Several speakers covered the philosophical underpinnings that have helped to create the increasing incidence of attitudes and policies that undermining respect for human life. Prominent ethicist Dr. Margaret Somerville of McGill University covered those issues in her evening lecture and tried to offer some positive, alternative positions that could be used to support a life affirming stance within a secular and democratic society.

Consistent themes emerged from the presentations. On the one hand, the numerous failures of pro-euthanasia and physician assisted suicide legislative proposals throughout the United States and in England and Wales revealed that much opposition to the practice still exists in many parts of the world. The legislation was successfully defeated by broad coalitions of people who represented a spectrum of political opinions, both secular and religious in outlook.

However, the almost passive acceptance of such practices in places such as the Netherlands and Belgium seems to indicate that once a society accepts the legitimacy of euthanasia under a few limited conditions, the underlining change of attitude towards life eventually leads to the practice to becoming increasingly widespread, eventually threatening people who want nothing to do with it.

The pro-euthanasia, physician assisted suicide lobby has also been steadily evolving, having learned from its failures in the past and has shed itself of the cruder elements that often undermined public support. In the words of Rita Marker of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, they have learned that “all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering,” and have thus changed their terminology accordingly.

Dr. Paul Byrne, in his talk on brain death, cautioned, as did other speakers, that the term “euthanasia” should never be used. The word is a Greek term meaning “good death” and the killings done via euthanasia are anything but a good death. Use of the term was said to give undeserved credibility and sanction to its contrary deadly results. A suggested appropriate alternative phrase was “imposed death”, which more accurately describes what takes place. Instead of “euthanasia prevention”, Dr. Byrne suggested the phrase “right to continue living” be used. As well, he suggested “physician assisted suicide” be should replaced with “physician imposed death”.

The death lobby has also focused its efforts more in the direction of political elites, effecting stealth changes in law, the medical profession and hospital practices that often take place with little public awareness or debate. Articles supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide in prominent medical journals and the ongoing worrisome changes in hospital practices all suggest that the battle is far from over and will likely get worse before things begin to improve. [4Dec07, Frank Monozlai and Steve Jalsevac, Toronto,]