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Secretary of Quebec's college of physicians write a reflection in May question on whether the push for euthanasia has gone too far in Quebec. Photo courtesy of Dooblem, Wikimedia Commons

Doctor who promoted Quebec’s euthanasia law having second thoughts

  • June 20, 2017

OTTAWA – Euthanasia opponents find it a “great irony” the physician who championed Quebec’s euthanasia law now has second thoughts.

Only weeks after the secretary of the Quebec College of Physicians, Dr. Yves Robert, wrote his May 10 reflection on the College’s website on whether the push for euthanasia has gone too far, two individuals have mounted a legal challenge against the Quebec law because they are ineligible to receive so-called medical aid in dying (MAID).

The plaintiffs in the case, filed June 13, are Jean Truchon, 49, who has lost the use of his arms and legs, and Nicole Gladu, 71, who suffers the effects of post-polio syndrome. They are ineligible for euthanasia because they are not terminally ill as is required under Quebec law.

“The plaintiffs would rather die with dignity than live with intolerable suffering,” their court document said.

Plaintiffs in British Columbia, along with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, had already mounted a challenge of the federal law’s requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable.” The euthanasia laws are also under pressure from those who want to widen accessibility to include mature minors under 18, those suffering from mental illness, and incapacitated persons who have signed advanced directives.

Aubert Martin, executive director of Living with Dignity, said Robert is now realizing euthanasia “has nothing to do” with doctors’ “medical competence, but is asking them to be a rubber stamp of someone’s request to die.”

The Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia wrote on its website that Robert’s reflection is reminiscent of “the classic novel Frankenstein, in which an idealistic scientific genius creates a humanoid monster that threatens the human race.”

“He stated a very clear statement of principle: if the client’s will is the only criterion for euthanasia, then the wisdom of medicine, the art of medicine and the science of medicine has no role to play.”

In an article written May 10 on the College’s website, Robert mused about how so-called “medical aid in dying” is now being seen as a “right.”

“For many, it is about having control over their death and the right to choose the time and the way,” he wrote. While “medical aid in dying” was reserved to those suffering at end-of-life, “we see the emergence of speech demanding a form of death à la carte,” he wrote. “But is this really what our society wants?”

If the answer is yes, Robert asks why the medical profession needs to be involved.

He suggested this euthanasia on demand “could take the form of assisted suicide, managed by a private company that would deal with the person, as in Switzerland. ... But is it really in this direction that Quebec society wants to go?” he asked.

Martin pointed out a patient cannot go into a doctor’s office and insist on getting an operation on his shoulder when the physician says there is no need. But in the case of euthanasia, even if it is against the doctor’s advice, it is about the patient’s rights.

“What is a doctor now?” asked Martin. “He’s starting to be a waiter, providing services only.”

The Alliance said Robert “seems to believe the protection of the common good can co-exist with the pressure of unrestricted individual freedoms and that a stable compromise can be reached between these two perspectives.

“But the legal and moral shift we have witnessed — when euthanasia has moved from homicide to medical aid in dying — is more than an evolution since both are genuinely different,” the Alliance said. “There is no compromise. We are talking here of a clearly perceptible seismic upheaval that leads us to a radically different medical paradigm, based solely on personal subjective choice.”

The Alliance is urging its member physicians and others to telephone or write to Robert to tell him they share his concerns.

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