Since euthanasia was legalized last year, doctors in Canada have been so flooded with calls from patients who want to die, they’re asking to be taken off the national registry of willing physicians.
They’re starting to ask to be removed from a list of doctors willing to participate in “medical aid in dying,” as they call it.
In Ontario, as many as two dozen doctors have been permanently removed from the referral list of physicians who are willing to help people commit suicide. Another 30 have put their names on “temporary hold,” the National Post reports.
Helping patients die – or killing them, as some call it – seems to be weighing mightily on these doctors, who swear an oath to preserve and protect life.
A health ministry spokesman said that while they do not need to give a reason, some have told authorities that they want “a reflection period to decide whether medical assistance in dying is a service they want to provide.”
The Canadian Medical Association said that for many doctors, the act of helping a patient die is just too much to bear.
“We’re seeing individuals, or groups of physicians who are participating and really feel like they’re alleviating pain, alleviating suffering,” said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA’s vice-president of medical professionalism.
Reports of doctors backing off from offering euthanasia aren’t just anecdotal. “I can’t tell you how many, but I can tell you that it’s enough that it’s been noted at a systemic level,” he said.
Euthanasia can be “too overwhelming” for many physicians.
“And then we’re seeing doctors who go through one experience and it’s just overwhelming, it’s too difficult, and those are the ones who say, ‘take my name off the list. I can’t do any more.’”
The act is performed out of care and compassion, Blackmer said. “But for most (doctors), it doesn’t make the psychological impact of that final, very definitive act, any less than it would be for anybody.”
Others say doctors are more concerned about the legal ambiguities involved in assisted suicide.
“I’m sure that there have been maybe a handful of physicians that have done this and decided they didn’t want to do it again — who, for moral reasons, on reflection said, ‘you know what? This isn’t something I’m comfortable with,’ ” said Dr. James Downar, a critical care and palliative care doctor with Toronto’s University Health Network.
However, Downar said the far bigger issues are the paperwork and bureaucracy involved, finding the medications and someone able to administer them, faith-based hospitals refusing to play any part in assisted-death requests, scrutiny and scorn from colleagues opposed to assisted dying and confusion over who, exactly, qualifies.