A group of physicians who are against doctor-assisted suicide are calling on their colleagues and the public to reject a future draft bill that would allow the possibility of “medical aid in dying” in Quebec.
The Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia Initiative (PATRE) held a press conference Tuesday to launch a campaign against legal euthanasia in Quebec, and invited other physicians and citizens to sign a declaration against the practice.
“Euthanasia through lethal injection is not a form of care, but rather the definitive end of all care. Patients should never be forced to give up their right to be treated and cared for,” said Patrick Vinay, the director of a palliative care service and spokesperson for the group.
PATRE member Catherine Ferrier said the practice could set a dangerous precedent, allowing “a process through which physicians would lose all professional judgment and become legally bound to kill their patients on demand rather than to alleviate their suffering to the best of their abilities.”
The group says euthanasia is “contrary to the goals of medicine” and favours strengthening palliative care to ensure that hospitals remain focused on healing.
Euthanasia through lethal injection is not a form of care, but rather the definitive end of all care.
— Patrick Vinay, PATRE
In January, the Quebec government said it would proceed with so-called “dying with dignity” legislation, named after a report released last March by the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity, a task force that spent two years studying end-of-life issues and holding public hearings across the province.
The task force’s report recommended doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients who wish to die to end their lives in exceptional circumstances.
On Jan. 15 a provincial panel of legal experts studying medically assisted end-of-life procedures released recommendations outlining the circumstances under which doctors should be allowed to assist those who wish to die, and suggested Quebec could bypass the Canadian Criminal Code, which prohibits assisted suicide.
The panel concluded that if a terminally ill patient is receiving palliative treatment, is in pain, and can clearly express the desire to end their life, helping the patient carry out that wish should be considered part of the continuum of care.
PATRE condemned the draft legislation, saying the parameters are poorly defined and not well understood, and would bring about a substantial loss of rights for both patients and health care professionals.
“It is naive to believe this would be sufficient to protect vulnerable patients from subtle or not-so-subtle coercion to choose death,” said Fernier in a Jan. 21 statement.
“The mere existence of physician-inflicted death as a legal option gives the message to elderly and terminally ill patients that their continuing existence is an unnecessary burden on their loved ones and the health care system. A desperate shortage of beds is a daily reality in our hospitals and cannot be ignored in this context.”
Since its formation last year, more than 300 doctors and 1,000 citizens have signed the PATRE declaration opposing legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide.
According to an Angus Reid opinion poll released Feb. 14, most people in Quebec would support a regulation permitting a form of doctor-assisted suicide in the province.
In the online survey of a representative sample of 804 Quebecers, 86 percent of respondents support enacting legislation aimed at allowing doctors to help certain terminally ill patients end their lives. One in ten (10 percent) were opposed to the idea, while four percent were undecided.
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