We 'tip-toe' to barrier of assisted suicide, Feb. 10, 2010.
Starving to death in a hospital bed is a horrible way to die, says an expert on the ethics of death, and it may be time to allow more overt ways of ending the lives of the terminally ill.
Wayne Sumner, a University of Toronto philosophy professor writing a book on assisted suicide, says while euthanasia is illegal in Canada, terminally ill patients or their families can refuse food, water and life-sustaining treatment.
"We tip-toe up to the barrier," says Wayne Sumner, who will speak about assisted suicide at UofT's Joint Centre for Bioethics on Wednesday afternoon.
"We peer over the edge, but seem reluctant to take that next step."
Sumner says there is no practical difference between letting someone starve to death, as is now done when feeding tubes are removed, and the more overt act of instructing a doctor to inject a lethal dose of medication to hasten death.
"If someone is refusing food and water, it's hard to see that the intention is anything but death," he says.
As such, he says, Canada should consider taking euthanasia out of the Criminal Code.
"You can choose the timing and the manner (of death). It's a more gentle way out," says Sumner, whose lecture will discuss how he came to that conclusion.
Not everyone agrees. Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, says every patient has the right to refuse treatment or food, and let nature take its course. "With euthanasia, you're not letting anything take its course," she says.
It is too big a leap to say that because people can refuse treatment or nourishment, they should actively take their own lives, she says.