Bioethicist Margaret Somerville says a euthanasia advocate’s recent comments to media show the slippery slope the euthanasia argument is on. Register file photo.

Belgian-style euthanasia feared as next step

By 
  • February 18, 2014

OTTAWA - The secretary of Quebec’s College of Physicians has mused Belgian-style euthanasia of Alzheimer’s patients and terminally ill children could follow should Quebec’s euthanasia Bill-52 become law.

Belgium recently expanded its law to authorize the killing of children and is debating whether to include demented adults who cannot give consent. Quebec’s College of Physicians secretary Dr. Yves Robert sees expanding Quebec’s proposed law as a logical progression.

Robert told the National Post: “This bill, as it is right now, it’s probably a landmark but surely not the end of the reflection.”

He noted those with advanced Alzheimer’s or those under 18 and suffering would not be eligible under Bill-52 as it is written.

“We have to think about that, not only for (incapable) adults but obviously for youngsters who face terminal diseases,” Robert said.

“What is amazing is that he’s an advocate of this extension,” said McGill University bioethicist Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. “I would have thought the people who are hoping to get the bill through would have been not very happy with his comments.

“They keep saying, ‘No, no, no, there’s no slippery slope.’ He’s advocating the logical slippery slope: once you step over the line and allow killing through euthanasia then it logically can be expanded to other situations that you can argue are analogous. He’s giving actual proof before the bill is passed of one of the greatest dangers of the bill if it is passed.”

Somerville noted there are two approaches to ethics: a principle-based approach that asks whether an action is inherently wrong, and a utilitarian approach that looks at whether an action will do more good than harm. In the principled approach, which she adopts, one must not do an inherently wrong act even if enormous good might come from it. But even utilitarians should oppose euthanasia, she said, because the risks and harms are far greater than the benefits and it’s not necessary.

“You don’t need euthanasia to relieve pain and suffering.”

Robert’s statements “give evidence of exactly why the risks and harms outweigh any benefits pro-euthanasia advocates might hope for,” Somerville said.

In the United Kingdom, a 2012 protocol called the Liverpool Care Pathway brought in “continuous palliative sedation” where patients were sedated and left alone to die without any food or fluids, she said. There’s been “an enormous fuss about it,” she said, noting allegations some hospitals have been getting financial benefits for implementing it. It was looked into and found to be “so unacceptable, it’s been completely abandoned.”

“Whenever you introduce interventions such as euthanasia, you can’t control them, even if you thought they were acceptable in the first place,” she said.

The triple combination of old age, concern about the health care costs of an aging population and euthanasia is “a lethal prescription,” Somerville warned.

“Who wants to be old in Quebec?” she asked, noting the passage of Bill-52 would open up the possibility for the abuse of sick, aging or vulnerable people.

Somerville hoped for the dissolution of the National Assembly before the euthanasia vote, expected on Feb. 20 (after The Register’s press date), but there are rumours the government will pass Bill-52 before its budget bill is introduced and a possible election call.

“What a dreadful thing to do: let’s get our legalized killing authorized before we dissolve parliament,” she said.

Anti-euthanasia groups were to hold a vigil Feb. 18 in Quebec City as a final rally against Bill-52.

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