Quebec may ignore federal assisted suicide law
Quebec’s Parti Quebecois Premier Pauline Marois has said the province will follow the government-appointed commission’s recommendation that Quebec bypass the Canadian Criminal Code prohibition on euthanasia by passing so-called “dying with dignity” legislation, which would treat the deliberate killing of patients as a medical rather than legal matter.
The Special Commission on Dying with Dignity’s report said Quebec could chose not to prosecute doctors who help end the lives of terminally ill or other patients because while the federal government enacts criminal law, the provinces are responsible for enforcing it. Veronique Hivon, minister of social services and youth protection, is also minister responsible for the euthanasia commission, and she has said the government will accept the commission’s recommendations and propose legislation before the Summer recess. The full 400-page report was submitted to the minister on Jan. 15, the same day the government said it would proceed with its recommendation. The commission released it’s initial report last March.
Hivon, a minsiter in the separatist government of Pauline Marois, affirmed the notion that health care is a provincial matter in defending treating euthanasia within the discretionary jurisdiction of the Quebec government.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said that ignoring the Criminal Code by refusing to prosecute doctors who euthanize patients by calling it medical care is a way to bring in euthanasia through the “backdoor.”
The commission, made up of three Quebec legal experts and formed during the Liberal government of Jean Charest, says that terminally ill patients have a right to assisted suicide, that such requests should be made by patients and not doctors, that doctors must review the case with a second physician and that they not be carried until 15 days lapse from the initial request and is requested again. There are strenuous reporting requirements during the care of the living patient and after a euthanasia request has been carried out. The commission concluded that terminally ill patients who can demonstrate their desire to end their lives while they are still “lucid” should receive help carrying out their lethal wish.
Schadenberg said “it is clear that they are proposing to legalize ‘Belgian-style euthanasia’,” with few effective limits on the practice. Schadenberg observes in his recent book that the so-called safeguards in Belgium’s euthanasia law are routinely ignored. He reports on studies that show nearly one-third of euthanasia deaths are done without an explicit request, that nurses are illegally carrying out euthanasia requests, and that nearly half of euthanasia deaths in one Belgian province are not reported as the law requires. Studies show that non-reported euthanasia deaths routinely ignore other safeguards outlined in the law.
Schadenberg also said that media reports on the developments in Quebec are misleading, saying that the commission clearly calls for euthanasia and not, as the papers and broadcasts suggest, assisted suicide. He explains the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia: “Assisted Suicide is when one person directly and intentionally aids, encourages or counsels a person to commit suicide, but the death is technically done by the person who dies, whereas euthanasia involves the direct and intentional causing of death of another person, usually by lethal injection.”
The commission also recommended that the Collège des médecins amend its code of conduct to permit for lethal use of sedation and cessation of nutrition and hydration. Schadenberg said that nutrition and hydration are not medical treatment and should never be withheld from patients.
Writing in the Montreal Gazette, Dr. Sherif Emil, a pediatric surgeon at Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, said, “the humanity of the health-care system has all but disappeared over the past 25 years,” explaining, “the patient has come to be seen as a burden to the system, rather than the reason for its existence.”
The federal government has not indicated any interest to get involved. Julie Di Mambro, spokesman for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, told LifeSiteNews that “it is for the courts to determine if the province is acting within its jurisdiction.” She added, “this is a painful and divisive issue that has been thoroughly debated in Parliament. We respect Parliament’s decision.”
In 2010, Parliament defeated a private member’s bill that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in a 228-59 vote.
A constitutional challenge against the Criminal Code prohibition is being heard in the British Columbia Court of Appeals after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith threw them out last year the case. Whichever way the Court decides, most legal observers say the case is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Georges Buschemi, president of Campagne Quebec-Vie, warned that legal euthanasia will spread from Quebec to the rest of Canada. “First Quebec, then two years later it will go the Supreme Court and it’s going to be a Morgentaler-type decision for euthanasia.”