QUEBEC, Jan. 16, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Quebec government says they will move to legalize “medical aid in dying” before the summer after a panel of legal experts issued a 400-page report showing how the province can circumvent the federal Criminal Code.
Though the plan’s advocates insist there will be strict safeguards, anti-euthanasia activists are warning that it will introduce the kind of “Belgian-style” euthanasia that resulted last month in deaf twins being euthanized because they feared going blind.
Véronique Hivon, Quebec’s minister responsible for the ‘dying with dignity’ file, says the legal experts’ report, released Tuesday, confirms that Quebec can move forward despite opposition from Ottawa.
"The constitutional basis is clear," Hivon told a press conference, according to CBC. "We are really in a field of regulating end-of-life care — and adding the possibility for somebody to have access to medical aid in dying."
Julie Di Mambro, spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, told LifeSiteNews that “it is for the courts to determine if the province is acting within its jurisdiction.”
“This is a painful and divisive issue that has been thoroughly debated in Parliament. We respect Parliament’s decision,” she added.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the protocols are so loose that “this is going to be wide open in the same way it is in Belgium.”
In the Flanders region in Belgium, one study found that 32% of euthanasia deaths were carried without the patients’ explicit request, and another found that 47% of euthanasia deaths are not reported as euthanasia.
Jean Charest’s Liberal government set up the panel of three legal experts, spearheaded by lawyer Jean-Pierre Menard, in June, in response to the Special Commission on Dying with Dignity’s call for the province to recognize “medical aid in dying” for adult residents of Quebec.
The panel said that while the federal government has authority over the Criminal Code, provinces have jurisdiction over health care. “The Quebec legislature has the constitutional power to organize the required legal framework for end-of-life care within the health-care system,” the report reads.
To circumvent the Criminal Code, the panel says the province should pass a law spelling out that when a physician hastens a patient’s death, it is not considered suicide.
Hivon says she plans to present a bill before the legislature adjourns for the summer.
The framework the panel proposes would require that the patient make a request in writing and that it be approved by two physicians. The request must be repeated again after 15 days, or five days if their health degenerates quickly.
Through the process, the doctor must maintain communication with the Quebec College of Physicians. After the patient dies, the file will be evaluated by three coroners who are to report problems to the police.
It would also require a committee to evaluate the patient’s mental capacity to ensure they are competent to make the request.
According to the Commission in its report last year, “aid in dying” should be freely requested by the patient, who must suffer from a “serious and incurable disease” with “no prospects of improvement.” The patient must be experiencing “physical or psychological suffering which is constant and unbearable.”
But Georges Buscemi, president of Campagne Quebec-Vie, said experience has shown that “all of these safeguards tend to fall away very quickly.” He pointed as an example to the Netherlands, which has now authorized euthanasia even for disabled newborns through the Groningen Protocol.
Buscemi warned that Canadians should prepare for legalized euthanasia across the country in short order.
“I think it’s all going to happen really close together,” he said. “First Quebec, then two years later it will go the Supreme Court and it’s going to be a Morgentaler-type decision for euthanasia.”
“It’s a big train that’s been building up steam since 1967 and it’s going to blow right by,” he continued. “I don’t see any reversal in the short term on this. There’s massive momentum.”
In their report, the panel argues that while Canada’s Criminal Code was based on the principle of the sanctity of life when it passed in 1892, Canada’s laws have since evolved toward a recognition of the autonomy of the person.
The passage of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 was a major turning point, they say, particularly section 7, which recognizes the “right to life, liberty and security of the person.”
According to the panel, the adoption of the Charter meant the right to life became merely “one right among others.”
"It is no longer life for the sake of life that merits being maintained, but life with a certain dignity,” they write. “When that dignity no longer exists, there's no justification to maintain it."
The report highlights the importance of the 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision, which, they write, “determined that the right to security gives the person a very broad protection of their physical integrity and protects them against all state interference that does not respect the rules of fundamental justice.”
“At the end of life, the state’s interest in the preservation of life is diminished in favor of the decision-making autonomy of the person,” they add.
Schadenberg says that while the mainstream media is using the term “assisted suicide,” the report from the Quebec Commission was clearly advocating for legalized euthanasia.
“Assisted Suicide is similar to euthanasia but not the same,” he explains on his blog. “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.”