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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The New Wedge Issue?

Though euthanasia remains absent from the dreaded list of “wedge issues,” the current House majority seems unwilling to recognize that the left transforms formerly unwedged issues into the ruling orthodoxy.

Ottawa,Ontario,Canada,July,1st,2023.,Canada,Day,Crowd,On
Credit: Gary A Corcoran Arts

Canada was in the news last week, this time for its euthanasia numbers. It started with Manisha Krishnan’s earlier VICE coverage of the country’s plan to extend the practice (in principle, if not already in practice) to drug addicts, a part of the mentally ill whole to be included in provisions that will be formally updated in March. In the days following, Daily Mail picked up the story with its characteristic panache (“Canada to legalize euthanasia for DRUG ADDICTS”), then Fox, then Deseret. The news organ at the Society of St. Pius X even got a hold of it.

We at The American Conservative have known about these plans for a while, which made the subsequent news—that euthanasia accounted for more than 4 percent of 2022 deaths in Canada—less surprising.

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One Canadian legislator tried to slow the train with legislation earlier this year. Ed Fast, a Conservative M.P. from British Columbia and former shadow minister, introduced a bill in February that sought to alter the criminal code to read “a mental disorder is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition.” Had the bill passed, the plan to expand euthanasia provisions to the mentally ill in March would have been temporarily stalled. But the proposal failed 167–150 at an October 18 vote, with almost unanimous opposition from Liberals, unanimous opposition from the Bloc Québécois, and unanimous support from Conservative and New Democratic Party (NDP) members.

At the bill’s February introduction, Fast asked, “Have we gone too far and too fast with Canada’s assisted suicide program? Will we evolve into a culture of death as the preferred option for those who suffer from mental illness or will we choose life?”

The questions are clear enough; the answers are even clearer. Yet some in the U.S. are ready to test the waters. The National Institutes of Health put out a request for public comment in August in response to its proposal to remove the term “lengthen life” from its mission statement. The institute defended this proposed removal with a reference to a December report from the Subgroup on Individuals with Disabilities: “The current mission statement could be interpreted as perpetuating ableist beliefs that disabled people are flawed and need to be ‘fixed.’” That disabled people tend to be the primary targets of euthanasia seems to have been lost on the subgroup.

Another struggle in the States gives a foreshadowing of what may come on the euthanasia question. After Speaker Mike Johnson’s election last week, Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia told Politico that Johnson faces “one of his early tests” with a fight over mifepristone in the contested farm bill. The more committed end of the liberal wing in the GOP, led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, refuses to vote for the bill as it currently stands because of a provision that would nullify the FDA’s January action that removed the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, making the drug accessible by mail.

Fitzpatrick called this move “extreme” and vowed to vote against any bill with its inclusion. And the congressman is not alone in his position: Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York, also a Republican, called the mifepristone provision a “non-starter” and said that he would “ensure [his] constituents’ priorities are addressed in this bill.”

Is Fitzpatrick satisfied with the quasi-legislative action of the Biden administration on a procedural level? Was he trying to form an even larger chasm between his campaign and that of his rival, Mark Houck, who has already gained a national profile as an acquitted target of the administration’s unwavering focus on sidewalk counselors? Exactly which aspects of the provision Fitzpatrick finds extreme are unknown; his office did not respond to a request for comment. But if a Republican can get away with this sort of dissent, holding up an appropriations bill for the sake of rejecting the instinctive pro-life commitments of his party’s base through mail-order abortifacients, then the GOP is setting up not just a slippery slope but a guarantee of permissive euthanasia on the federal level. The leader of the Canadian Conservatives, Pierre Poilievre, was able to rally every member of his party against euthanasia. Jagmeet Singh did the same with the NDP. But the Conservative corollary in the States is slow to see the forest for the trees.

Though euthanasia remains absent from the dreaded list of “wedge issues,” the current House majority seems unwilling to recognize that the left transforms formerly unwedged issues into the ruling orthodoxy, sometimes at a stunningly rapid pace. If that was the strategy for abortion and gay marriage, why wouldn’t it be for national suicide?

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