Canadian doctors vote against changing anti-euthanasia policy

  • August 27, 2013

OTTAWA - Even though the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has reaffirmed its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide it’s only a matter of time before pro-euthanasia doctors force the issue back on the table, predicted ethics professor Margaret Somerville.

During meetings in Calgary Aug. 18-21, the CMA general council narrowly defeated a resolution calling on the federal government to launch a wide-ranging consultation on what was termed “doctors killing patients as a medical act.” The CMA has historically opposed euthanasia and assisted suicide for ethical reasons but despite the recent vote the issue is not “permanently settled,” Somerville cautioned.

“Like what happened with same sex marriage, those supporting it will keep coming back until they succeed,” said Somerville, a professor at the McGill University Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. “They don’t have anything to lose by doing so.”

The resolutions concerning euthanasia were introduced by CMA delegates from Quebec, where the provincial government recently introduced Bill 52 to decriminalize euthanasia by calling it “medical aid in dying” and making it a health-care issue. Health falls under provincial jurisdiction, while the Criminal Code, which outlaws euthanasia as a form of homicide, is a federal matter.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose told journalists in Calgary that the Stephen Harper government has no intention of reopening the euthanasia debate.

“As you know, Parliament voted in 2010 to not change its position on this issue so at this time we don’t have any – any intention of changing our position, she said.”

Anti-euthanasia groups welcomed Ambrose’s words.

Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), said she hoped the federal government would “act decisively” against Quebec’s challenge to the Criminal Code through Bill 52.

“The crucial question now is whether the federal government will uphold the law of the land against the encroachments of a group of misguided ideologues,” she said. “The business of government is the pursuit of the common good and that can never mean giving some — in this instance doctors—the wherewithal to kill.

“Call it what they may, the pro-euthanasia lobby in the Province of Quebec has been very ingenious in sowing confusion and in deceiving too many citizens who, therefore, do not understand that ‘medical aid in dying’ is about killing people.”

The CMA also passed a resolution that “supports the right of any physician to exercise conscientious objection when faced with a request for medical aid in dying.”

While the CMA rejected calls to revisit its 2007 policy against euthanasia and assisted suicide, delegates did endorse several resolutions in favour of palliative care. In one, they resolved that “every person nearing the end of life who wishes to receive palliative care services at home should have access to them.”  The CMA also endorsed the initiation of curriculum at medical universities for training in palliative care.

Campaign Life Coalition lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg noted the federal government provided $6 million toward palliative care funding that she said came after lobbying efforts.

“This government’s approach to euthanasia and assisted suicide has provided a blueprint,” Brownrigg said. “It is entrenching an approach to compassion, through Parliament, the courts and through funding of palliative care.

“It is a life-affirming definition of compassion in the face of suffering,” she said. “I hope Quebec residents recognize the stark difference in their government’s approach.”

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