Parti Quebecois justice critic Veronique Hivon

Some politicians just can’t understand what’s good for the goose...

  • February 14, 2012

Politicians given enough rope will invariably hang themselves, figuratively speaking of course.

Such is the case with Parti Quebecois justice critic Veronique Hivon, whose clamor for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide should, if there is any justice, now be choked off for good and all.

Madame Hivon came hard out of the chute to condemn Quebec Tory Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu for his recommendation, later withdrawn, that our most notorious convicted killers be left alone in their cells with a length of state-supplied rope.

Senator Boisvenu’s call for our worst criminals to receive public assistance in committing suicide, Hivon said, was not only outrageous and shameful but should disqualify him from speaking on justice issues for the Harper government.

She demanded his immediate removal from the parliamentary committee currently studying the omnibus overhaul of the federal criminal code.

Despite the reputation he has as an advocate for victims’ rights, and despite the caveat of the suffering he endured after his daughter was raped and  murdered, Boisvenu’s suggestion was more than unacceptable. It was morally repulsive and just plain foolish.

At a purely practical level, the record of homicidal maniacs suggests they would be far happier committing homicide than suicide if left with a stout length of rope. A homicidal maniac takes up the habit, after all, through an unwavering  belief in the primacy of his own existence and the dispensability of others (a characteristic he shares, curiously, with the most genteel advocates for population control).

Morally, of course, it is repugnant for the state to cold-bloodedly kill even its most heinous criminals. Seeking to evade responsibility by substituting self-execution for capital punishment merely adds cowardice to injustice.

Had Hivon not become entangled with advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia, she would have been perfectly justified in her criticism of Boisvenu. But she is a primary force behind the special commission that spent a year holding hearings across Quebec on legalizing medicalized killing. The commission is expected to release a report on those consultations, with recommendations, at the end of February.

If the report opens the door to state-sanctioned medical killing of the ill, the weak, the vulnerable, the elderly, it will be a trap door under Hivon’s feet, or at least her credibility. It will be proposing the same moral formula as underlay Boisvenu’s recommendation: that human beings deemed of no use to society should be disposed of, if not aggressively by the state, then with a push and a nudge from the public guiding hand.

The sole difference is the means of killing. Boisvenu wanted the rough readiness of a rope. Presumably, Hivon would opt for something more esthetically refined. What might that be? A needle in the arm? We all await the modalities with bated breath.

Most damning of all to her case is her justification, at a press conference in December 2009, for pushing Quebec’s National Assembly to create the special commission and stimulate debate about legalizing medicalized killing. Quebecers, she said, wanted to talk about the issue. Quebecers needed to talk about it. And, standing beside PQ leader Pauline Marois, she insisted it was her duty as a representative of the people to take the argument to the federal government and demand it drop Criminal Code prohibitions against euthanasia and assisted suicide if that is what Quebecers want.

“We want to listen to what Quebecers want, what they need and, once we arrive at a consensus, then it would up to Monsieur Harper and his government to give an answer to what the Quebec population has asked for. Let’s hope they (will) be as open-minded as possible because saying ‘no’ to what we will be asking for will be saying ‘no’ to what Quebecers have asked us to ask him,” she said.

Under that convolution are two staggering presumptions. One is the implicit assumption that Quebecers would, indeed, ask for medicalizing killing, otherwise there would be nothing to which Harper needs to say “no.” The second is that popular sentiment should be sufficient grounds for the state to legalize health-care executions, or at least defer to publicly funded self-immolation.

Quelle horreur, however, when Boisvenu made exactly the same claim apropos of the prison system. Then, Hivon insisted, he was not just wrong but should be condemned for even trying to provoke the debate.

A rope, stretched to its logical end, always snaps back.

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