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Quebec euthanasia bill back on the table

By 
  • May 22, 2014

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.

In a rare show of unity, the Quebec Liberal government and three opposition parties agreed May 22 to bring back the Parti Quebecois’ euthanasia Bill-52 at the same stage it had been before the provincial election call earlier this year dissolved the government. Bill-52 was on the verge of a final vote at the time. The Liberals swept to power in the recent election, and soon after said Bill-52 would be part of its agenda.

An additional eight hours of debate on the bill, starting the week of May 26, will give newly elected MNAs a chance to speak. Bearing the names of both Health Minister Gaétan Barrette and its PQ champion Veronique Hivon, Bill-52 is expected to pass before Premier Philippe Couillard introduces a budget June 5.

“It is sad that so many Québec politicians are blindly supporting the legalization of euthanasia via Bill-52,” said Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg.

“Bill-52 uses imprecise language making it a very dangerous bill that is open to abuse, and Bill-52 will allow a doctor to lethally inject their patients, forever changing the trust relationship between doctors and patients and turning medical caregivers into killers,” he warned.

The Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia and the grassroots group Living with Dignity have promised a legal challenge attacking the constitutionality of Bill-52, which decriminalizes euthanasia by labelling it as health care under the euphemism “medical aid in dying.” Health care is under provincial jurisdiction, while the Criminal Code is under federal jurisdiction.

“In all of the three countries where euthanasia has been legalized they didn’t do so by modifying the health laws, but by modifying the criminal law,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, president of the physicians' alliance.

“In Quebec, they are trying to get around the fact that it’s not under their jurisdiction. They are trying to make an end run around federal law.”

The alliance and Living With Dignity, in a joint statement May 22, said euthanasia provisions violate both the Canadian and the Quebec charters and “encroach on federal jurisdiction over criminal law, as euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under our Criminal Code.”

“The Criminal Code actually says the fact the person consents to their death does not remove the guilt of the person who causes it,” said Ferrier.

On a constitutional level, the bill challenges the “separation of powers between the provinces and the federal government," Ferrier said.

“This attitude from the new Quebec government can only irritate the federal government, at a time when the economic situation of Quebec calls for a greater level of co-operation between the two levels of government,” said the statement from the two groups.

The groups urged the Quebec government to follow a suggestion made during committee hearings to suspend the legislation until after it has been submitted to the Quebec Court of Appeal for an opinion on its validity, “in view of the seriousness and urgency of the situation.” It also noted the federal government could refer the bill to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The alliance has invited a doctor from Belgium to speak in Montreal June 8 on what life is really like in Belgium under that country’s euthanasia bill, though Ferrier says Bill-52 may already be passed by then.

In Belgium, people are being euthanized without consent. The numbers are “always increasing and there are deaths that do not “respect the criteria and the law but they are not prosecuted. And Belgium just opened their law to include euthanizing children," Ferrier said.

“Nurses often take the day off when they know there’s going to be a euthanasia on their ward because they can’t handle it,” Ferrier said. Those who do participate take a day off afterwards, pointing to the “suffering of the health professionals as well.”

Dr. Patrick Vinay, a palliative care expert, will speak at the same event on the fact “you don’t need to kill people to control their symptoms; we can do that already,” said Ferrier, a family physician.

“A lot of people want euthanasia because they are afraid of suffering,” she said.
Vinay will also explain the disastrous effect on palliative care should euthanasia be legalized, she said.

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