A Killer Bonus
Faced with doctors’ growing resistance to assisted suicide, some Canadian advocates are asking, “What if we just pay them more?” Thirteen months ago, Canada legalized doctor-assisted suicide, or as Canada calls it, “medical assistance in dying.” From the start, Eric Metaxas and I have said that our northern neighbors have placed their entire society on a slippery slope on which the “right to die” will eventually become the “duty to die”—just as it’s happened everywhere else. Nothing in the past thirteen months suggests Canada will be an exception. Elderly patients diagnosed with cancer are immediately asked if they wish to be euthanized; “ethicists” strongly urge that the organs of the euthanized not go to waste; and policy proposals to extend the “right to die” to “the mentally ill” are now being advanced. Notwithstanding this parade of horribles, there’s one bit of good news: Many doctors who initially expressed a willingness to lend deadly so-called “medical assistance” have changed their minds. Unfortunately, the growing reticence of early practitioners to continue offering this lethal service is not because they now take the moral qualms seriously. No, the problem is that they’re not being paid enough to kill their patients. I wish I were making this up but, sadly, I’m not. An article in the July 12th issue of the Canadian magazine MacLean’s asked “Should doctors be paid a premium (for) assisting deaths?” The author tells us that as “staunch supporters of physician-assisted dying are avoiding taking up the work … advocates of the service worry it will exist in theory only, and not in practice.” The solution, according to the author, is to pay doctors more. While she acknowledges that “medically assisted dying is still controversial in Canada,” and that “paying someone a premium to do this work can be construed as ethically compromising,” she still thinks the problem is one of incentives. This notwithstanding a 2015 survey by the Canadian Medical Association, which found that “only 29 per cent of doctors would consider providing the service, and that was before they knew doing so could be financially detrimental.” (Emphasis added.) Who knows whether the proposal to pay doctors extra for killing their patients will go anywhere. What is clear though, is the fanaticism and moral obtuseness of assisted suicide advocates. For them, the problem isn’t that the vast majority of Canadian doctors have moral qualms about killing their patients—it’s the pay is too low. This reminds me of something Ben Mitchell of Union University said: “Whenever you put a price tag on something that is priceless, you cheapen it.” In this case two priceless things—the sanctity of human life and the duty of care doctors owe their patients—have been cheapened in the service of a false idea of what it means to be compassionate. No, real compassion towards the sick and dying is on display in countless hospices, yet another gift of Christianity to the modern world. There, palliative care is combined with concern for the person’s spiritual and emotional needs. The result, as my friend from New Zealand, John Fox, has written, is a powerful witness to the fact that pain and death are “a team sport.” The Christian alternative to bribing doctors to kill patients is, in Fox’s words, to surround them with “solidarity, the love of caring families, and the competence of medical professionals.” In doing so, “we can carry together the experience of suffering, find meaning and stillness inside it, say the things that should be said, and make and receive the peace we need.” As what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death” spreads through the culture, it’s imperative that Christians model and dramatically expand the sort of palliative care that Fox writes about. In his words in an email to me, “we must be the people who care for our sick and elderly—we must be the people who don’t kill their children or throw away grandma.” In other words, we must show the world real compassion so that it can reject the cheap substitute currently being peddled.