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Euthanasia bill leaves doctors ‘between a rock and a hard place’

  • June 26, 2014

OTTAWA - Quebec physicians face moral and legal quandaries as their province prepares to implement its new euthanasia law contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada. 

The law, dubbed innocuously “An act respecting end-of-life care,” is not slated to go into effect for another year to 18 months, but already Quebec doctors who want answers concerning malpractice insurance have no certainty whether they will be covered in cases involving euthanasia. 

Dr. Valerie Brousseau, secretary of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, contacted the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), which provides malpractice insurance for doctors, to find out whether she would still be covered if she refused to perform euthanasia and refused to tell Quebec authorities of the request so the individual could get a referral. The Quebec law will not force doctors to kill patients, but it does legally require them to report the request to the administrator running their health organization. 

“Will the CMPA cover me, because I could be potentially sued for not divulging or refusing to perform euthanasia?” Brousseau said she asked. 

She said she also asked, “If I do perform euthanasia and there is an issue with the family and a family member decides to sue me, saying there was not appropriate evaluation and this is actually murder, would they cover me? They could not answer,” Brousseau said. 

But even worse than the threats of civil law suits is the threat of criminal prosecution. 

“This law goes against the Criminal Code,” she said. 

Brousseau said there seems to be a “complete denial” that this law clashes with federal jurisdiction. 

“For physicians right now, a lot of people don’t realize what is the breadth and scope of the law,” she said. 

In some regions of the province, a doctor uncomfortable with euthanasia may not be able to pass the problem on to another doctor because there are none. And referring a patient to be killed by a lethal injection is not something she wants to be involved in. 

“I don’t want to be holding the bag because I sent the patient to be killed by someone else,” she said. “That’s not what I call conscientious objection.” 

Living with Dignity executive director Nicolas Steenhout agreed “doctors are between a rock and a hard place.” They will be split between having to respect their code of ethics, and respecting the law in Quebec and the law in Canada, he said. 

Steenhout also decried the misleading nature of the law. 

“They’ve just transformed euthanasia into health care. This is the first time in the world where euthanasia has been deemed health care,” he said. 

This is “very dangerous” because it is “changing the very nature of health care,” he said. 

Living with Dignity, a grassroots coalition opposed to euthanasia, hopes to get the bill stopped before it comes into effect in 18 months, he said. 

“Everything is in motion for us to challenge the legality of the act in court,” he said. 

Steenhout suspects everyone is waiting to hear what the Supreme Court will rule in the Carter case, involving euthanasia and assisted suicide, which will be heard in October. 

If the Carter decision upholds the Rodriguez decision of two decades ago that preserved the Criminal Code sanctions against assisted suicide and euthanasia, Steenhout predicted a “constitutional battle ahead.” 

“If it is not, we’re seeing a lot of stuff in other countries that’s feeding our worries,” he said. 

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