Euthanasia forces target Quebec

  • September 29, 2010
Margaret SomervilleOTTAWA - International pro-euthanasia forces see Quebec as a vulnerable beachhead for legalizing euthanasia in Canada and then spreading across North America, warns Margaret Somerville.

Somerville, founding director of McGill’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, and others are keeping an eye on Quebec, where a legislative committee is holding public hearings on euthanasia.

Though many Canadians outside Quebec were reassured with the resounding defeat of a Bloc Quebecois’ pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide private members’ bill earlier this year, Somerville said pro-euthanasia forces regroup after each defeat. 

“We used to think that’s the end of it, but as soon as that’s finished, the next one starts up,” she said.

Especially worrying is that a survey shows about 79 per cent of Quebeckers “think euthanasia is a good idea.”

“Many people are really asleep at the wheel,” warned McGill History professor John Zucchi, who presented a brief on behalf of 54 of his academic colleagues to Quebec’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity when it began its multi-city sweep in September.

“Many who would be against it if they thought about it are thinking this is an issue kind of at the margins.”

Though the rest of Canada is opposed to euthanasia, Zucchi warned if Quebec legalized it, that could set off a domino effect.

Quebec has experienced “a fair amount of pressure” from the euthanasia lobby, said Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg. These forces have had a “head start in making a case of urgency.”

“Quebec society should not even be looking at this,” Schadenberg said, citing the province’s high suicide rate, an identified problem with elder abuse and its lack of adequate palliative care services. “What about the rights of disabled people?”

The province may try to bring in a de facto legalization of certain types of euthanasia by changing the provincial prosecution guidelines, he said. Quebec may also argue that euthanasia and assisted suicide are health matters or medical acts, which are under provincial jurisdiction.

“We don’t want euthanasia and assisted suicide being smuggled into our health system under the guise of a medical act,” said Living with Dignity director Linda Couture, who heads a new group that is rallying anti-euthanasia forces to respond to the committee hearings.

“I don’t think there is anything to be proud of to be the first to have this. There is nothing dignified in shooting someone in their veins with a toxic solution.”

Changing the definition of euthanasia from a criminal act to a medical act “softens” the issue in the public’s mind, as does the focus on individual rights, autonomy and choice, Couture said.

The pro-euthanasia side is very organized, she said, noting that at a recent hearing in Trois Rivieres, they dominated the open mic session. 

“It becomes like a popularity contest.”

Couture urges citizens to follow the hearings, get involved and sign the organization’s manifesto for a natural and dignified end-of-life and promotion of quality health care in Quebec at its web site

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