WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The reality of legalized euthanasia often doesn’t correspond to hypothetical debates over the practice, according to a panel of experts convened at The Catholic University of America.
CUA’s Institute for Human Ecology hosted a March 28 panel titled “What is Euthanasia Doing to the West?” examining where so-called “medical aid in dying” laws have been adopted, and where they have not, and how Catholics can respond to arguments in favor of these practices.
Panelists included Ross Douthat, a columnist at The New York Times and a media fellow for the Institute for Human Ecology; Ari Schulman, editor of The New Atlantis; and Leah Libresco, Catholic writer at the “Other Feminisms” substack; as well as Charles Camosy, a professor of medical humanities at the Creighton University School of Medicine.
Camosy listed a series of Western nations or jurisdictions that have enacted medically-assisted euthanasia or medically-assisted suicide laws, including 10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
“Once you permit it, it’s very difficult to keep it where it was originally intended,” Camosy said, because once permitted it is difficult “medically, legally and morally” to stay within the intended limitations.
Schulman said data shows the adoption of the practice can be a “slippery slope,” calling Canada “an incredible slippery slope.”
Canada first legalized physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia in 2016 for adults with terminal illness. In physician-assisted suicide, a physician prescribes lethal medication but the patient administers the medication. In physician-assisted euthanasia, the physician administers the medication prescribed to kill the patient.
Canada expanded its law in 2021, permitting those with serious or chronic physical conditions to undergo a medically-assisted death, even if their condition posed no threat to their life. Earlier in 2023, Canada’s Liberal government delayed its plans to permit mental health issues as a permissible category for requesting medically-assisted death amid international criticism.
Canada has one of the West’s most permissive laws on the matter, panelists said.
A report by the Canadian government found that in 2021, there were 10,064 Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAID, provisions reported in Canada, accounting for 3.3% of all deaths in the country that year. The same report found that the number of cases of MAID in 2021 “represents a growth rate of 32.4% over 2020.”
“All provinces continue to experience a steady year over year growth,” the report said.
Schulman said that California legalized assisted suicide the same year as Canada, but after the latter’s expansion, there was a stark difference between the two jurisdictions with similar population sizes.
“In 2021, there were 500 people who received assisted suicide in California,” he said. “In Canada, that number was 10,000. So 20 times more.”
Schulman said debates on assisted suicide often center around giving people who are suffering a choice in their final days, but people who elect the practice are often vulnerable, lacking family or other social support. Those vulnerabilities could leave people in poverty or with disabilities susceptible to being coerced into ending their lives.
Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.