January 28, 2013

Quebec's promised bill to bring in "medical aid in dying" will bring in Belgium-style euthanasia, warn critics.

The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec (AECQ) called the proposal "dangerous" and said the proposed legislation, expected by June, confuses medical care with euthanasia.

It is disconcerting that intentionally causing the death of a patient is considered medical care and is perceived as a right, the bishops said in a Jan. 18 statement.

"Make no mistake: this is about killing voluntarily, thus ending a person's life," said the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) Jan. 21.

On Jan. 15, the Quebec government announced the Menard report's legal advice on how the province can circumvent the Criminal Code, which makes both assisted suicide and euthanasia crimes.

Geriatrician Catherine Ferrier of Physicians' Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia (PATRE) said the Quebec government says it can get around the Criminal Code by calling euthanasia a medical act, putting it under provincial jurisdiction.

In a release, PATRE called the report "a dangerous legal vision" that is ignorant of medical reality.

"This report is the work of some hand-picked lawyers who present the act of doctors killing patients as if it were part of a natural continuum with good end-of-life care," said Ferrier.

"They and the politicians who appointed them introduce the term 'medically-assisted dying' (aide médicale à mourir) as if it were something different from killing patients."


"This act is abhorrent to us as doctors, and should appall Quebecers who care about social justice and building communities that care about the most vulnerable," Ferrier said.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) warned the Quebec government is bringing in Belgian-style euthanasia.

Despite safeguards, 32 per cent of euthanasia deaths in Belgium are done without a patient's request; nurses are euthanizing patients against the law; and about 47 per cent of euthanasia deaths are not reported, the EPC warns.

Margaret Somerville, founding director of McGill University's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said the Quebec government is confusing palliative care, the refusal of life support and pain treatment as if they were "all the same things as giving a lethal injection."

"Everyone wants medical assistance at the end of life," she said, but including euthanasia as part of palliative care is "horrifying to most palliative care physicians. Belgium is completely off the map in what it is allowing," Somerville said. Euthanasia is allowed for the mentally ill and others who are not terminally ill. "Anyone's moral intuition should rebel at that."


In one case, an elderly couple married for 60 years were euthanized together, even though the wife in her late 70s was not ill, she said.

"It's a conflict of values at the centre of this," Somerville said. In the so-called progressive values "individual autonomy trumps everything else and any form of suffering cannot be tolerated; anything that relieves suffering even if wrong is a lesser evil."