Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard Register file photo.

Quebec Premier backs off free vote promise on euthanasia

  • May 25, 2014

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

On May 22, Couillard and the leaders of the other three Quebec political parties announced there was unanimous consent to bring euthanasia Bill-52 back to the National Assembly at the stage it had been prior to the last election. The euthanasia bill had been on the verge of a vote that would make it law when the call came for a provincial election.
“To me, it’s a mockery of democracy,” said Quebec lawyer Michel Racicot, vice president of the grassroots anti-euthanasia group Living with Dignity (Vivre dans la Dignité).
Living With Dignity and the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia, which represents 625 doctors, denounced the fact anti-euthanasia Liberal MNAs were whipped to give the unanimous consent necessary to bring Bill-52 back.
“Nobody stood up to vote; it was all done in their caucuses,” said Racicot.
“Nobody stood up and they could have,” he said. He pointed out 17 of the Liberals who had voted against Bill-52 previously were voted back in during the recent election. “Any one of them could have said, ‘No.’  
“If you know your leader is in favour of the bill, and you want to be promoted or a candidate in the next election, it takes a lot of guts to go against the leader,” he said.
“As to saying as a justification you ‘were forced to act against your conscience’ on such an important value as respect for life, my assessment is that you lack conscience and courage,” said McGill University bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law. “Where is St. Thomas More when we need him? An analogy is that ‘obeying superior orders’ is no defence to crimes against humanity.”
While the vote may have been presented as a “procedural decision” that did not involve conscience, that vote is “facilitating” the passage of Bill-52, she said.
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette had told a meeting May 15 the premier’s promise only applied to the third reading vote, which could come as early as the final week of May or the first week of June.
Couillard’s imposition of party discipline, coming not long after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s decision to keep pro-life candidates from running for his party and his intention to force his caucus to vote in favour of abortion, goes against a long-standing Liberal Party tradition of respecting conscience votes on moral issues.
“I’m hoping that a majority of Canadians, wherever they stand on these issues, will have the common sense and ethics to act to show that they do not want Canada going down this dangerous path of party dictatorship on matters of conscience,” said Somerville.
“What is happening is not only serious for the immensely important issues of euthanasia and abortion, but also for the principles of representative democracy and how democracy must function if it is to survive in a healthy state,” said Somerville. “My prediction is that history will look back on these events and ask, ‘How could they have been so blind to the damage they are doing to so many important values on which our Canadian society is founded?’
“The central issue raised in the public square by both euthanasia and abortion is identical: namely, when the values of individual autonomy and respect for human life are in conflict, which should take priority? What we are seeing in Couillard’s and Trudeau’s stances is a response based on radical individualism — that individual autonomy always takes priority.”
Somerville said she expects Couillard wanted to get the bill passed as far away from the next election as possible.
Living With Dignity and the pysicians' alliance drew a parallel between MNAs being forced to vote against their consciences and what the bill will impose on hospital general directors who will be forced to participate in euthanasia if it becomes law.
“A doctor can opt out, sort of, but not really, because they have to get somebody else to do it,” said the alliance president Dr. Catherine Ferrier. “An institution cannot opt out; the person in authority over that institution has no conscientious rights.”
From the point of view of Catholic ethics, giving a referral to kill a patient is “material and formal co-operation with evil,” she said. Her colleague Dr. Marc Beauchamp described it as “being part of the chain that leads to the intentional death of a person.”

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