By Alex Schadenberg
An article by Sam Ashworth-Hayes that was published by the Spectator (UK) on December 11, 2022 arguing that Canada’s assisted dying catastrophe is a warning for the UK. This is an important article because assisted dying (euthanasia) is being heavily debated in the UK.
There is a reason people have warned against legalising euthanasia time and time again. The incentives for individuals and the state to behave in diabolical ways are simply too strong to be ignored. Once the essential moral safeguard that murder is wrong is abandoned, the creeping normalisation of death by doctor inevitably expands.
This is again visible in Canada, where 10,000 people were killed by their doctors in 2021 alone. The scope of the law has shifted now from people facing imminent death to those simply experiencing ‘intolerable’ symptoms in the view of the patient or doctor. And – buoyed by these successful outcomes – legislators are now expanding coverage to the mentally ill, who will be offered the option of ending it all. Move fast, break things, and ask questions later.
The extent of this normalisation is astonishing. One clothing brand ran an advertising campaign centred on a young woman who had chosen to die; that she chose this in response to the failure of the Canadian healthcare system to treat her was left off-screen. ‘If I’m not able to access health care, am I then able to access death care?’ she asked in June; the answer, apparently, was yes.
This case speaks to a fundamental problem with assisted dying. There are people in Canada who will have begged, time and time again, to be put into suitable housing, or to have other accommodations made for them. But these things are expensive, and involve significant effort on the part of the state bureaucracy. Assisted dying only requires two signatures and the depression of a syringe. And while it might be a terrible outcome for those whose lives could have been saved, euthanasia is a tremendous fiscal boost to the state. The mentally ill are costly, the disabled are costly, the sick are costly. They take up hospital space, they take up doctors’ time, they impose a burden on state services, they require state workers to work.
As Yuan Yi Zhu has noted in these pages, all this was never intended to happen. The door to Canada’s dystopia was opened in 2015 when the Supreme Court declared that fears of ‘a descent down a slippery slope into homicide’ were just that: fears founded on nothing more than speculation and scaremongering.
In other words, the slippery slope continues to be the best practical description of how social change actually works: once there is momentum behind a cause, once the essential principled safeguards that a course of action is utterly wrong are abandoned, once we agree in theory that the arguments which compel the first step apply equally to the second. Once, in short, we begin, it is very hard to find a stable place to stop. British policymakers considering following Canada’s lead should consider where it ends.
These same arguements are equally important for the many US States that will be debating the legalization of assisted suicide in 2022. Don’t go there. Assisted suicide, once normalized, is expansive.