Watch above: Dr. Margaret Somerville, the head of McGill’s Centre for Medicine, Law and Ethics, explains why she is strongly opposed to euthanasia after the recent death of Brittany Maynard sparked the right-to-die debate.
SASKATOON – A professor of applied ethics from McGill University is worried Brittany Maynard’s very public assisted suicide may be used to open the doors to euthanasia.
“I’m really sad about it,” said Dr. Margaret Somerville, who is head of McGill University’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. She said in some ways Maynard was made a “poster child” for assisted suicide, and worries it sends the wrong message.
“The harm will go way beyond the individual person if we normalize that, ” Somerville told Global News.
“The harm is that you’ve now put suicide up as an appropriate response to suffering,” she said. ”And yet every time we see somebody who wants to commit suicide, we say no don’t do that, we’ll try and save you, we’ll convince you your life is still worth living, that you are still loved, and that you are still worthwhile.”
She pointed to the Netherlands and Belgium, where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been allowed for years.
“We’ve got what we call the slippery slope,” she said. “Belgium is now looking at changing the law to allow euthanasia of people who don’t know they are being euthanized, they’ve got dementia,” she said.
“(In the Netherlands) If you have a disabled baby, parents can now apply to have the baby euthanized, so what we see is they bring it in, in a tightly restricted situation, as everybody says will happen in North America, and then quite quickly it expands.”
In Belgium, she added, a committee can approve taking the organs of a euthanized person, and using them for transplants.
“What we see is rapid expansion,” she said.
Brittany Maynard was a young woman from California, who moved to Oregon because that state allows assisted suicide. She became an advocate for death with dignity, and died over the weekend.
Somerville said cases like hers are probably the strongest argument for euthanasia.
“The strongest case you can make for it is at the level of an individual person, who is competent, an adult, and says ‘I give my informed consent.’”
“But even allowing that I think is a terrible idea … think about what it means for medicine, that you’re going to have doctors walking into a room with a lethal injection, and giving somebody a lethal injection,” she said.
Back in 2001 Somerville published a book called “Death Talk – The Case Against Euthanasia.” She says she’s seen nothing since then that has changed her view.
She says people who are dying often look for some sort of meaning for their life, and worries that in Maynard’s case, assisted suicide became the cause that gave her death some purpose.
“It’s a very complex issue,” she said. “It’s not a simple matter of take a heap of drugs and kill yourself.”
Somerville was in Saskatoon giving a talk at St. Paul’s Hospital on euthanasia and assisted suicide, as part of the William F. Mitchell Bioethics Seminar.