EDMONTON—A newly formed grassroots group has launched a campaign calling on Quebecers to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide from being brought into the province's health care system.
“We thought we would need to have a group that would really represent an option different than the one that is proposed by the euthanasia lobby,” says Dr. André Bourque, president of Vivre dans la Dignité (Living with Dignity), a non-partisan, non-religious group focused on end-of-life issues.
The group plans to make a submission to a travelling parliamentary commission that will hold hearings in late summer or early fall to get the views of Quebecers on the issue. One of the group’s key arguments is that euthanasia and suicide are killing and as such shouldn’t be “confused with health care.”
The group also has concerns over last November’s announcement that the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons, the province’s medical regulatory body, supports legalized euthanasia in some circumstances, such as when an individual faces imminent death.
The college came to its decision after a three-year reflection period, making it the first time in Canada that such a body has come out in favour of euthanasia.
“We are saying death can be an appropriate type of care in certain circumstances,” college secretary Dr. Yves Robert said at a news conference in Montreal. “This is a major breakthrough.”
Although it is illegal under the Criminal Code to aid in suicide or for a doctor to administer a lethal injection at the patient’s request, the college says that should be changed to allow doctors to legally take the life of certain patients.
Dr. Bourque, a family physician and the head of family medicine at the Montreal University Hospital, says he is worried about the college’s vocabulary implying that euthanasia is a part of end-of-life care.
Dr. Jeff Blackmer, head of the Canadian Medical Association’s office of ethics, has also criticized the college’s stance.
“It’s a group of physicians that are regulators who set the moral and ethical standards for practicing physicians. So they carry a certain amount of weight that could sway public opinion,” he told the National Post.
More Palliative Care Needed
An Angus Reid poll conducted earlier this year shows that 67 percent of respondents support euthanasia in Canada. In Quebec, the regional stats show the support to be 77 percent.
Right-to-die organizations and people in favour of euthanasia, which is legal in Washington and Oregon, Colombia, Japan, and the Netherlands, believe it is an acceptable and humane way to alleviate the suffering of those who are in severe pain or terminally ill.
They say it allows people to die with dignity while avoiding invasive and possibly futile hospital treatments.
Last week, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice acquitted a lawyer who advised the daughter of an elderly woman in a coma that she may cut off her mother’s feeding tube based on the patient’s prior request. The court’s decision was a landmark ruling on assisted suicide in Germany.
Dr. Bourque says legalizing euthanasia would be a “foot in the door” to opening and expanding a practice that will place vulnerable patients in a dangerous position.
“There will be lives taken without their consent, there are people who don’t want to die who are going to die, and there are going to be decisions taken by third parties for people who have not asked that their lives be shortened.”
He notes that in the Netherlands, legalized euthanasia has slowly broadened to the point that parents can now request euthanasia for their newborns, and some elderly Dutch are emigrating from the country out of fear that their children will take advantage of their vulnerability and shorten their lives.
“Once you start giving permission to do this, you’re changing something fundamental, and you will find that it’s going to be huge.”
Last year, a total of 2,636 Dutch people were killed by euthanasia, a 13 percent rise compared to the previous year. Voluntary euthanasia has been practiced in the Netherlands without sanctions since 1984, and legally since 2002.
“If somebody’s suffering, you don’t need to kill the patient to kill the pain, there’s always a way to take away the pain,” Dr. Bourque says, adding that what is needed is increased investment in palliative care and making it more available.
“We should help those who find no meaning in life to find such a meaning, and this solidarity is one of the richest of our society. . . . The answer to fighting this death mentality is to offer better care and at the end you have a better society, you have a better civilization—one that’s based on solidarity, not on shortcuts.”