Oregon Doctor Warns Canadians to Reject Assisted Suicide Legislation

A doctor practicing in one of the two U.S. states where physician-assisted suicide is legal has written an open letter to Canadians advising them to beware of the “misguided legislation” of Bill C-384, the bill that would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

“A message to my Canadian neighbors” was written by Dr. William Toffler, the national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care in Portland Oregon, a national organization of physicians who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide in the U.S.

Dr. Toffler writes that, “Since assisted suicide has become an option in my state of Oregon, I have had at least a dozen patients discuss this choice with me in my practice. Most of the patients who have broached this issue weren’t even terminal.”

“Many studies show that assisted suicide requests are almost always for psychological or social reasons,” Dr. Toffler observes. “In Oregon there has never been any documented case of assisted suicide used because there was actual untreatable pain. As such, assisted suicide has been totally unnecessary in Oregon.”

Furthermore, “the legislation passed in Oregon does not require that the patient have unbearable suffering, or any suffering at all for that matter.”

In his practice Dr. Toffler has found that requests for suicide are very often cries for help rather that demands for death.

“How physicians respond to the patient’s request has a profound effect, not only on a patient’s choices, but also on their view of themselves and their inherent worth.”

“When a patient says, ‘I want to die’; it may simply mean, ‘I feel useless.’ When a patient says, ‘I don’t want to be a burden’; it may really be a question, ‘Am I a burden?’ When a patient says, ‘I’ve lived a long life already’; they may really be saying, ‘I’m tired. I’m afraid I can’t keep going.’ And, finally, when a patient says, ‘I might as well be dead’; they may really be saying, ‘No one cares about me.’”

Dr. Toffler has observed a two-fold consequence of the introduction of assisted suicide in Oregon: 1) fear of the motives of doctors or consultants arising in the minds of patients, and 2) a change in attitude toward patient care within the healthcare system itself.

“People with serious illnesses are sometimes fearful of the motives of doctors or consultants,” Dr. Toffler notes. “Such fears were never an issue before assisted suicide was legalized.”

“Most problematic for me has been the change in attitude within the healthcare system itself,” Dr Toffler continues. “In Oregon, I regularly receive notices that many important services and drugs for my patients — even some pain medications — won’t be paid for by the State health plan.  At the same time, assisted suicide is fully covered and sanctioned by the State of Oregon and by our collective tax dollars.”

“I urge Canadian leaders to reject the seductive siren of assisted suicide embodied in C-384,” Dr. Toffler concludes. “Oregon has literally tasted the bitter pill (barbiturate overdoses) and many now know that our legislation is hopelessly flawed. I believe Canada, with its tradition of excellent palliative and hospice care, should continue to strive to be a model for the rest of the world by rejecting this misguided legislation.”

Bill C-384 had its first hour of debate in Canada’s parliament on March 16, 2010.

The bill is currently scheduled to receive its second-hour of debate on Tuesday, April 20 and to be voted on Wednesday April 21.

Alex Schadenberg of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said he “believes that Francine Lalonde, the Bloc Quebecois MP who sponsored C-384, will once-again try to trade-back in the order of precedence to delay the defeat of Bill C-384. She may not be able to trade-back.”

“You need to contact your MP NOW,” Schadenberg urged, “and tell them that you oppose Bill C-384.”

Dr. Toffler’s letter has been posted to the website of Canadians for Care, a grassroots movement among doctors in Canada that proposes comprehensive care for the needs of patients as an alternative to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Contact info for all MPs is available here.

An analysis of the proposed euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation is available for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition website here.

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