End the debate

  • September 23, 2010
euthanasiaQuebecers have seldom felt obligated to be in step with the rest of Canada, so the road show currently marching across La Belle Province is no surprise.

The Quebec government has been holding public hearings across the province on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Ostensibly, this is a fact-finding tour but the name of the committee betrays its true sentiment. It is called the “Dying with Dignity Special Commission,” implying, of course, the odious notion that euthanasia and assisted suicide bring dignity to death.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are, of course, illegal in Canada. Some countries let doctors kill their patients in certain circumstances but in Canada, thankfully, we still believe that when a doctor swears an oath to never inflict harm it means he will not deliberately end a life.  

That is the law and it can not be changed by legislators in Quebec. So no matter what testimony is heard at these hearings, or what poll results are disseminated, or what pleading comes from medical organizations, this road show will not result in the legalization of euthanasia.  

Only the federal government can amend the Criminal Code and it has shown no inclination to take a softer stand on end-of-life issues. A private member’s bill on the issue by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde last April was defeated 228-59.

So why hold the hearings? Almost before they started, the head of the commission admitted that several months of debate would not forge a consensus on this contentious issue. While Quebec is more sympathetic to euthanasia than any other province (one poll suggests 70 per cent of Quebecers would support decriminalization of euthanasia), it is still divided on the issue. That is not about to change.

Just the same, it is a mistake to be indifferent about these proceedings. The debate about end-of-life matters has barely begun in Canada. Just as legalized abortion did not come about overnight, attempts to legalize assisted killing will be drawn out affairs that, quite likely, will form Canada’s next, great social debate.

What’s happening in Quebec is an early skirmish in that protracted battle. Already, the Quebec College of Physicians, the province’s regulatory body, has come out in support of euthanasia in some circumstances. The chairman of these hearing, Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley, concedes they won’t bring change to the Criminal Code but suggests they could provide public support for Quebec to circumvent the law by refusing to pursue criminal prosecutions.

Yet, of the hundreds of written submissions received in the early days of the hearings, many spoke against granting doctors the right to end life. As one doctor said, “I don’t think that it’s good medicine to have physicians end these people’s lives. That’s not caring for them. That’s basically just getting rid of a person.”

We hope people are listening.

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