New Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, shortly after being elected, said he will press ahead with euthanasia legislation. Register file photo.

Quebec euthanasia not dead yet

  • April 23, 2014

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

Shortly after the April 7 election, the Liberal leader said he would try to bring back the Parti Quebecois’ euthanasia Bill-52, which was approaching its final vote in the National Assembly when the election was called.

“We are very disappointment that Mr. Couillard is rushing into legalizing euthanasia,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, spokeswoman for the Physicians Alliance against Euthanasia. “He seems to be treating it as if it were simply a bit of ‘unfinished business’ from the previous parliament without any particular ethical significance.”

Couillard also said he saw a rare consensus around this issue, something Ferrier disputes.

“It’s a deeply divisive issue,” the family physician said.

Nicolas Steenhout, executive director of the grassroots group Living with Dignity (Vivre dans la Dignité), said there is no consensus on euthanasia among politicians, among people with disabilities, among physicians or among the population. He noted the briefs that were submitted to various commissions consulting on Bill-52 were 60-per-cent opposed in 2010 and 45-per-cent opposed in 2013. Polls also showed Quebeckers did not understand that “medical aid in dying” means deliberately causing the death of patients, he noted.

Ferrier also pointed out opinion polls are “not reliable evidence” as was proven regarding the Parti Quebecois’ Charter of Quebec Values, which polls showed was popular among francophone Quebeckers.

“Twenty-five of 49 members of the previous Liberal caucus voted against the adoption in principle of Bill-52,” Ferrier said. “Many of them are deeply and fundamentally opposed to legalizing euthanasia.

“Any attempt to re-introduce this bill as it stands will cause profound division in the Liberal Party. Nor can he expect the medical profession to embrace what he is proposing: many have expressed their opposition to euthanasia and others have not addressed it or expect they or their hospital will be able to opt out of the ‘aide médicale à mourir’ (medical aid in dying) portion of the law, which will not be allowed. He can expect serious opposition from the medical profession. He can also expect a court challenge, as the provinces do not have jurisdiction to legalize euthanasia.”

In order to bring back Bill-52 at its last stage, Couillard would need unanimous consent, Steenhout said. There are 19 Liberals who opposed the euthanasia bill at previous stages and Steenhout hopes they will prevent unanimous consent. There are now 70 Liberals, about 20 more than in the last government, and Living with Dignity needs to find out where the new MNAs stand as well as renew their conversations with re-elected officials, he said.

While Couillard has promised a free vote based on conscience on euthanasia, Steenhout said he hopes this policy of respecting conscience applies at every stage of the process, including the request for unanimous consent.

“It has to be a free vote at every step of the way,” said Steenhout. “That’s what we’re hoping at this point.

“If that bill is brought back, it is unfair to ask newly elected people to make a decision on an issue that is really of such importance to Quebec without understanding the background.”

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