Years before euthanasia was legalized in Canada in June 2016, palliative care nurse Jean Echlin wrote of her experience at the beside of terminally ill patients and issued a warning about the consequences of legalizing euthanasia. 

By Jean Echlin, RN, MscN

Nurse Consultant-Palliative Care

Dying with Dignity can only be achieved with expert hospice/palliative care, strong community and institutional health care and compassionate support of vulnerable people. This care must be available for all Canadians.

elderly female patient with nurse

With 26 years experience as a palliative care nurse specialist and consultant; I have been at the bedside of more than one thousand dying individuals. Thus, I can assure you that persons, who receive timely, appropriate and expert pain and symptom management, including attention to significant socio-spiritual, psychological and emotional issues, do not ask for assisted suicide or euthanasia. With the inclusion of family members as the “unit of care,” people want to live as long as possible! In fact, good hospice/palliative care can actually extend the life span. As well, it gives patients an improved quality of life at the end of life.

Over the years of caring for people at the bedside as they face life-threatening or terminal illness, I have found that depression is a common symptom. Depression is treatable even in late stage disease, thus euthanasia and assisted suicide are a threat to people who need both medical and psychological support for clinical depression.

If euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized, this would adversely affect the priority and need placed on the development of palliative care standards and norms of practice already developed by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA). Expert palliative care requires a commitment of health care dollars. Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a financial, moral and ethical “cop out!” With financial efficiency and expedience a health care priority, these killing methods may catch on quickly in a system strapped for money and resources. Doctors and nurses should not be killers.

Euthanasia treats people as disposable objects. All Canadian should be concerned…even frightened by the possibilities.

Jean Echlin was awarded the prestigious 2004 Dorothy Ley Award of Excellence in Palliative Care by the Ontario Palliative Care Association (OPCA). Published in Action Life News, Summer 2005.