The Canadian government's decision to expand its already liberal assisted suicide regime to include ages 13 to 17 will not be taken lightly by the religiously minded.
The new legislation, which will come into force from March 2024, will allow medical services to carry out acts of euthanasia not only in cases of terminal and painful illnesses, but also in a whole range of physical and psychiatric disorders for which the patient has no ability or desire to deal/resist. Euthanasia requests must be made with the signature of at least two medical professionals not related to family members or dependent entities.
Last year, 10,064 Canadians died by medically assisted death; this is 3.3% of the total and comparable to 4.5% in the Netherlands and 2.4% in Belgium, where similar legislation has existed since 2002. Only a small minority (0.4% in Québec) gave rise to follow-up questions of undue influence or other irregularities. However, with the further expansion of the rules governing the circumstances of euthanasia requests, these percentages are expected to increase substantially.
In October 2023, Portugal will join Spain and the Benelux countries in this legality, but with some apprehension regarding the limitations to be established regarding (1) voluntary euthanasia, through which people make a conscious and positive decision in which concerns their assisted death, but even more so in (2) non-voluntary situations in which other people must make the decision due to incapacity, such as the dying person in a coma. It is perhaps significant that only 33,000 “living wills” remain on record under legislation introduced a decade ago under which people make a written declaration that they do not wish to be resuscitated or artificially fed, in an effort by third parties to delay the natural process of death.
The fascinating but elusive phenomenon of conscience continues to be researched by neuroscientists in parallel with the morality of conscience associated by psychologists. In recent years, an international cooperative led by Liad teachers Mudrik, from Israel, and Giulio Toninini, from the US, used a primitive form of AI to explore and compare the levels at which decisions can be made. Perhaps not surprisingly, initial findings conclude that these exist in a variety of wavering forms and include the ability for someone to be able to evaluate possibilities while in a coma. The exact location in the brain of the information processing mechanism and how this may be influenced externally remains undetermined. What is certain about euthanasia is that decision-making is subject to many fluctuating influences on patients, doctors and social workers and to variations in personal circumstances and the presence/influence of a moral climate.
It is this uncertainty that forces doubt regarding the procedures currently undertaken or contemplated. As we age, the nuances of beliefs and what may have seemed like logically positive realism intended for the general benefit of society can become a source of anxiety. Nor is it comforting to know that doctors' mental well-being is at an all-time high due to the infliction of stress; Last year it was estimated that in the USA alone around 400 surgeons chose to deliberately end their lives. True expression of intent has become precarious.
The current frantic pace of development of Artificial Intelligence is overwhelming. Its many applications and the need for regulation will be the main theme of the upcoming COP 28 conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There are fears that, as with the introduction of virtual “cryptocurrency”, retrospective rules will never be able to contain what has become an epidemic of moral uncertainty.
To what extent can we prevent a potentially beneficial revolution in governance from falling into the hands of autocratic states and dishonest companies? We are on the threshold of an entirely new concept of destiny for managing a global society, through which control will be exercised by robotic machines. These will work according to an almost infinite database, from which logical, not emotional, decisions regarding our lives and deaths will be made. Such will be the application of euthanasia and its sinister compatriot eugenics.
At ninety, I discover that life's current dilemma is much more dangerous than it was when I was nineteen. I hope that our much-maligned younger generations are able to find the strength of purpose to correct the sins of their fathers and restore better times for all who may inhabit planet Earth.