Doctors debate physician-assisted suicide
There are some visceral examples, burned into the minds of Canadian physicians that illustrate what can happen to a doctor seen to be offering the promise of a speedy death to patients. Halifax physician Dr. Nancy Morrison was charged with first-degree murder in 1997 after police alleged she injected a terminally ill cancer patient with potassium chloride. It was Morrisons colleague who reported the incident to police. A judge eventually dismissed the charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to show the injection had caused the death of the 65-year-old patient. But the incident created big headlines, a reprimand from Morrisons provincial governing body and a chilling legacy for members of her profession. Morrison declined a request for an interview. Its a disposition shaped by her history. She is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor mother from wartorn Europe who, along with her own mother, made ammunition for German soldiers in a concentration camp. They were the fortunate ones in the family. The rest of her family on her mothers side was exterminated. I was very affected by the fact that people suffered, she says. How does one live a moral, ethical life in what one does? How does one do the most one can for people? From a young age, she was fascinated with the human brain and human behaviour. As a child shed spend hours in her room dissecting her beloved pets after they had died, prying the tiny brains of mice and hamsters from their cranial cavities and plopping them into Heinz baby food bottles filled with vinegar. As a medical student in Toronto, she became troubled with how physicians under pressure would treat patients without proper consideration of the implications.
Srini Chary was at his cancer-stricken wifeas bedside when she died in their home, three years after her diagnosis. Then a budding surgeon, Chary says thatas when he came to understand the value of care at the end of a patientas life, and soon switched his studies to train as a palliative care specialist. On Monday, as Canadaas doctors began a public debate over physician-assisted suicide, the Calgary MD said his experience caring for his wife a and many patients since a means he simply canat consider the thought of helping a suffering patient die. aIf care and well-being is what I train for, Iad like to focus on care and well-being,a Chary said, in an interview. aItas not even a suicide in my mind. Iam killing.a The polarizing issue took centre stage at the Canadian Medical Associationas annual general council meeting, which opened Monday in Calgary, as delegates heard from an expert panel on end-of-life-care. Canada needs better programs that allow patients to die comfortably at home and more palliative care training for young physicians, said panellist Dr. Eric Wasylenko, a Calgary family physician specializing in palliative care. Proper end-of-life care strives to help patients live as well as they can before they die, he said. aMy personal view is it is not within the role of the physician or the practice of medicine to actually deliberately cause someoneas death, even if theyave asked for it,a said Wasylenko, in an interview following the panel discussion. aThe role of physicians and medical care is to support people in their life until their natural death, not to kill them artificially or in advance of their natural death.a The debate has taken on growing urgency in Canada after Quebec introduced contentious right-to-die legislation this year. Earlier Monday, Canadaas health minister Rona Ambrose said the federal government isnat planning to reopen the debate on euthanasia. aThis is an issue that is very emotional for a lot of people a not just regular Canadians, but also physicians,a she told reporters. aParliament voted in 2010 to not change its position on this issue.
The Canadian contribution to the US physician workforce
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