June 18, 2014

No comfort in words

On the very day Quebec legalized medical killing this month, I committed an act of euthanasia. 

Published in Peter Stockland
June 11, 2014

Put words in action

Seldom does the House of Commons speak as one voice. So Parliament’s recent near-unanimous support of a motion to make palliative care a national priority was encouraging and welcomed. Yet the roar will quickly fade to a whisper without sincere government action to turn this rare cross-party unanimity into meaningful legislation. 

Published in Editorial

OTTAWA - Groups opposed to euthanasia vow to fight Quebec’s adoption June 5 of Bill-52 “An act on end-of-life care” that brings euthanasia to the province.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec warns the adoption of euthanasia Bill-52 would have serious and harmful consequences for the future of Quebec.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is under fire for violating a promise of a free vote on euthanasia in Quebec.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Quebec National Assembly is on track to vote in favour of euthanasia by early June, putting the province on a collision course with the federal government.

Published in Canada

Doctors don’t think Canada should mess with the rules that govern how they care for the terminally ill without a serious national debate. Therefore the Canadian Medical Association has been sponsoring town hall meetings across Canada.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Forces opposed to euthanasia in Quebec have expressed disappointment newly elected Premier Philippe Couillard intends to press ahead with euthanasia legislation.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Dr. Balfour Mount, considered the “father of palliative care in North America,” has written an open letter to Quebec’s new premier advising him against re-introducing the euthanasia bill.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - As the Quebec government considers an end-of-life bill that would allow euthanasia, Quebec's Catholic bishops warn that society faces a crucial choice.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - The new evangelization isn't about condemning our culture but healing it, Cardinal Thomas Collins told an audience of doctors, nurses and health care ethicists at the annual Cardinal Ambrozic Lecture in Toronto.

Published in Vatican
January 30, 2013

Killing is not care

The Criminal Code, Parliament and the Supreme Court have been consistent and clear on the matter of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Both offences are serious crimes as prescribed in law and as upheld in various votes by the nation’s top legislative and judicial bodies. Yet the Province of Quebec is bulling ahead with a chilling attempt to circumvent the law by decriminalizing euthanasia through a legislative sleight-of-hand.

In mid-January, the PQ government of Pauline Marois trumpeted a report suggesting doctors should sometimes be allowed to kill patients. Naturally, that is not how the report is worded. It speaks of “medically aided death” and suggests that euthanasia is just another “part of the continuum of care” provided by doctors. So on some days doctors will deliver a baby, or remove tonsils, or treat cancer, and on other days they will deliver care by killing the patient.

This is an offensive notion, of course, and it must be opposed forcefully by society in general and by the federal government in particular.

By June, Quebec is expected to propose legislation to declare euthanasia is a medical procedure and therefore strictly a provincial matter beyond the reach of the Criminal Code or Parliament interference. Assumedly, the Quebec government has lawyers who feel confident in making that argument even though it strikes most reasonable people as far-fetched to claim killing someone can be equated with providing them with medical care.

This legislative end-around follows a resounding rejection two years ago of a private member’s euthanasia bill introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde. She lost that vote 250-57. The Supreme Court had rejected euthanasia in a 1993 decision. Two years after that, a senate committee concluded euthanasia should remain a criminal offence. Although euthanasia is legal in some countries, Canada, to its credit, has consistently rejected it.

Even Quebecers are unconvinced. The “Dying With Dignity” committee crossed the province for two years hearing submissions. Sixty per cent of people or groups opposed euthanasia. Many doctors are appalled that their oath to “do no harm” could be perverted to countenance killing.

“This act is abhorrent to us as doctors and should appall Quebecers who care about social justice and building communities that care about the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, spokesperson for a group called The Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Instead of writing laws to kill sick and suffering people, politicians in Quebec and across Canada should be increasing the number and improving the quality of palliative care centres. Euthanasia is a deplorable solution for old age, illness and infirmity. The focus should be on providing comfort and care, and building a society that treats all life with dignity and respect.


Published in Editorial

OTTAWA - Quebec’s promised bill to bring in “medical aid in dying” is a “dangerous” proposal that confuses medical care with euthanasia, said Quebec’s bishops, joining numerous groups in condemning the plan.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - You know you’re going to die, so what’s the plan?

Published in Canada

In the coming months Canada's laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide will be challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Hassan Rasouli, a man rendered speechless and mostly non-responsive in Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital by a catastrophic infection of bacterial meningitis. Then an appeal of the Carter vs. Attorney General of British Columbia will pass through the B.C. Court of Appeal on its way, likely, to the Supreme Court of Canada. By spring the Quebec government is promising to make physician-assisted suicide effectively legal in that province by putting in place regulations preventing prosecution of doctors who kill terminally ill patients.

It's a debate that has split Canadians since Sue Rodriguez went to court in 1992. She asked for medical help in ending her life once Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) took away her ability to kill herself.

Churches, and particularly Catholics, have opposed changes to the law which would see the state endorse killing inconvenient patients. Basic Christian teaching on the sanctity of life makes the Church stand obvious and expected. But McGill University law and bioethics professor Margaret Somerville has emerged as the most prominent secular challenger to the movement to make euthanasia a legal, normal and accepted practice.

While in Toronto to deliver a Nov. 22 lecture for the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, Somerville sat down for a talk with The Catholic Register. What follows is an edited version of the interview.

Catholic Register: Are you hopeful that this is a winnable argument?

Margaret Somerville: Definitely. I'm an incurable optimist. Even if we don't win, what matters is that we try and that we keep on trying.

CR: Is there any way to win the argument against euthanasia if assisted suicide opponents are dismissed as religious fanatics?

MS: That's why I argue as I do. And it's why people get so mad at me, because they can't dismiss me that way. I'm not arguing from a religious base and none of my articles argue from a religious base. I think some of the religious people make mistakes, that's for sure, in the strategies they use. This current divide in pro-life circles between either total banning of abortion or no law at all — that's a huge mistake, huge, huge, huge.

CR: Do you see the same mistake being made in the euthanasia debate?

MS: Well, I'm worried that it will be. Their beliefs are informed by their religion — and of course that's perfectly acceptable and reasonable. But to expect other people to accept it because it's religious is a mistake. Other people who are not religious will reject it because it's religious. You can say these are my beliefs and as it happens they're concordant with my religion. But this is what I personally believe and what I think is good social and public policy. There are very strong arguments for that.

CR: Has the argument against euthanasia been ghettoized? Are the only people who care about the issue committed religious activists and organizations?

MS: They're not the only people who care about it, which is rather reassuring. The biggest group who are against euthanasia are doctors, and certainly by far not all of them are Church people. It really has to do with values. There are certain progressive values versus more traditional values. None of my arguments are based on religion. Not any of them.

CR: What do anti-euthanasia advocates have to do to win the debate?

MS: Good facts are essential for good ethics. One of the things that's wrong with respect to Justice (Lynn) Smith's judgment (in Carter v. Attorney General of B.C.) is that she purports to review the use of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the jurisdictions that have legalized it. She said there is no problem, there is no slippery slope. Well, that's simply not right factually.

The pro-euthanasia people are very keen on saying there's a societal consensus, that everyone wants this. Well yes, but you've got to make sure those surveys are properly done. If you say to somebody that someone is in terrible pain and they want euthanasia, should they be able to have it? You've got to choose between saying yes to euthanasia and saying no to pain and suffering relief. What you have to do is ask people, does someone have absolute rights to all possible pain management? And the answer is yes, absolutely.

CR: If you look at the arguments in favour of euthanasia in their most positive light, they are arguments based on compassion. They want to end very real suffering.

MS: One of their arguments is that they wish to end suffering. The other argument is based on autonomy. It's also connected to what they perceive as human dignity — their definition of human dignity. The Carter judgment, the Royal Society (of Canada) report and the Quebec (College of Physicians 2009) report all really are fundamentally based on a right to individual autonomy, choice and self-determination overriding any damage to the value of respect for life.

CR: What's bad about autonomy?

MS: There's nothing bad about autonomy. But, like anything else, unbridled it can cause serious damage. The reality is that we're not just isolated molecules. You have to have certain restrictions on freedom to maintain the conditions that make freedom possible.

I don't think we need to ask how we will die. If you institute this (euthanasia) now probably we won't be euthanized if we don't want to be euthanized. Though, there's serious reason to believe that might not be the case if you look at the Netherlands and Belgium. But I think the question we need to ask is how do we want our great-great grandchildren to die? And what sort of a society are we leaving them? What norms will we adopt?

I'm certain that if you simply give priority to individual autonomy, without taking into account the harm that you do at other levels — at institutional and societal levels — then you could probably end up with a society in which no reasonable person would want to live. That's where our responsibility lies. It lies in holding in trust values for our descendants, for future generations.

CR: Is the argument against euthanasia a naturally right wing or conservative argument?

MS: No, I don't think so. But you do get clusters of values.

If you took me as an example, I'm socially conservative and fiscally liberal. But, I'm not standard socially conservative either. I think we should legalize marijuana. I'm against capital punishment. I can't believe conservatives who are anti-euthanasia and pro-capital punishment. I think it's absolutely absurd. I'm against same-sex marriage, but I'm not against homosexuality. I think homosexuality is natural for some people. I'm against same-sex marriage because of its impact on kids' rights.

That's why it's so difficult to vote now. You can't find a politician who will uphold all your values. So you have to prioritize your values and say what's most important. I think euthanasia is extremely important.

Actually, I don't use left and right wing any more. Even if you care a lot about individual autonomy you might want to preserve the collective for the benefit of the individual. An isolated human is a very sad being. What's happened in the pro-euthanasia argument is that there's what I call intense individualism. There's no tolerance with respect to that issue for overriding the wishes of an individual.

Published in Canada