Fight is on as Quebec’s euthanasia bill passes

  • June 5, 2014

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.

The new law, passed 94-22, allows doctors to kill their patients if they request so-called “medical aid in dying.” It treats euthanasia as health care, which is under provincial jurisdiction, while the Criminal Code, which lists it as culpable homicide, is under federal jurisdiction.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay has not indicated what action, if any, the federal government will take.

“It is our Government's position that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society,” said MacKay’s spokesperson Palomar Aguilar in an e-mail. “The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation 20 years ago in the Rodriguez decision.”

Aguilar also noted Parliament voted in April 2010 by “a large majority” not to change the laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, “which is an expression of democratic will on this topic."

The Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia denounced the adoption of the bill as did the grassroots network Living with Dignity (Vivre dans la dignité). Both groups, in separate statements, vowed to take the battle to the courts on constitutional grounds.

“With few exceptions, our elected officials have also chosen to ignore that Quebec does not have jurisdiction to decriminalize euthanasia,” Living with Dignity said. “Kill a patient, even at his request, is not care; this is a homicide prohibited by the Criminal Code.”

“This is a serious betrayal of the sick and the dying, as the killing of a patient who is dying is not a treatment, but a homicide,” said the Alliance in a statement. 

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg said EPC supported the efforts of the Quebec-based groups to challenge the law on constitutional grounds.

"Let's be clear, Bill-52 gives Quebec physicians the right to intentionally and directly cause the death of persons by lethal injection,” said Schadenberg on his blog. “This represents an act of homicide and not an act of ‘end-of-life care.’ ”

He described the law as “imprecise, open to abuse and based on the Belgian euthanasia law.

“In Belgium, euthanasia is being done to people who are not terminally ill but living with depression; euthanasia has been extended to children and studies have proven that euthanasia is often done to people without request,” he said.

The Alliance accused Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) of failing in their duties to Quebeckers by trying to fundamentally change the definition of medicine, the concept of health care and the value of human life.

“We refuse to see medicine distorted,” the Alliance said. “We will do everything in our power to protect vulnerable patients, to protect the integrity of the health care team and to preserve human quality medicine that generations of doctors and nurses were able to build in Quebec.

“This fight is just beginning.” 

Living with Dignity called the new law a violation of the Hippocratic tradition in medicine. It pointed out a doctor can now kill a patient at his or her request to end rather than relieve his or her suffering.

This so-called “medical aid in dying” will now be offered, without exception, in all public health institutions in Quebec — hospitals, nursing homes and so on — “whatever the beliefs of management or its staff,” the network pointed out.

The Alliance noted the government “proposes killing Quebeckers before palliative care coverage is a reality for all.” Only 30 per cent of the population has access to quality palliative care presently, it said.

“I hoped until the last moment that our members (would) not vote in favour of this bill, which introduced euthanasia with all its consequences,” Quebec Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix wrote on his Facebook. “I am very disappointed. 

“Now, we will have to work with even more zeal to accompany the people at the end of life so that they do not have to request euthanasia,” he said.

In a speech he gave at a vigil outside the National Assembly on the eve of the vote, the cardinal said there is no consensus on euthanasia, contrary to what government officials have been saying. He also noted the sense of disquiet, especially among older Quebeckers.

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