C H N Threatening the elderly - cloaking euthanasia with terms like dying with dignity


Rising health-care costs will play a factor

Mohammed Adam, CanWest News Service

Published: Friday, November 02, 2007

OTTAWA -- A national debate on balancing the right to life with skyrocketing health care costs could endanger services for the elderly and fuel demands to legalize euthanasia, some experts say.

Dr. Robert Cushman, CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network in eastern Ontario stirred a hornet's nest this week with a call for a serious debate on the right to die with dignity as a matter of public policy.

He said seniors deserve independence and dignity in the twilight of their lives and the debate should take place in the context of ballooning health costs.

His comments drew swift condemnation from Physicians for Life, which accused him of promoting euthanasia. The group says "dying with dignity" is often a code for allowing frail, elderly and often helpless people to take their own lives, or get strangers to do it for them.

The doctors' group says Dr. Cushman is playing into the hands of right-to-die advocates who want to legalize euthanasia, which Canadians have already rejected. And tying the issue to the rising cost of health care is a rather ingenious way of broadening its appeal.

"Those who say people have a right to die with dignity are saying you have the right to demand death at a time of your choosing," Dr. Will Johnston, president of Physicians for Life, said from Vancouver. "Dr. Cushman seems to be hinting at a personal bias towards legalized suicide and he is trying to open the debate. He is softening public opinion by raising a false issue of costs. Our health care costs are not high because of a lack of assisted suicide. He is doing the work of the extremists."

But others say with seniors now consuming about a third of health care resources, a healthy debate is needed to get a grip on all the possible ramifications of ballooning health costs.

"It is clear that the cost of health care is not sustainable for our society and the society is going to have to make some tough decisions. Dr. Cushman is right to open up the debate," said Dr. Andrew Falconer, deputy chief of staff at Ottawa's Queensway-Carleton Hospital. "I would assume that a debate like that is going to lead us in the direction of caps on some services but quite frankly, it is a debate that ought to go on."

Ottawa Hospital chief of staff Dr. Chris Carruthers acknowledges that a debate on the health needs of seniors could veer into taboo subjects such as right to die and caps on some treatments. But it is necessary to have such a debate to provide a clear road map on what choices and consequences lie ahead.

Dr. Carruthers points out that because of limited resources, a U.S. state such as Oregon ranks health services in order of what is important enough to treat. Other countries have faced the issue and devised different solutions and Canada must follow the same path.

"If you come to our hospital and say 'don't put me on a ventilator' we won't put you on one even if we know it will save your life," Dr. Carruthers said. "But on the other side of the coin, if you are very sick and elderly and you continue to want all the care, no holds barred, what should happen? At the present time we will treat people. But with limited resources how do you manage that? We have not had that discussion and Dr. Cushman is only asking for that debate."

Ottawa Citizen


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