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Steve Weatherbe

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Critics applaud decision overturning Quebec’s euthanasia law one week before it took effect

Steve Weatherbe

QUEBEC CITY, Canada, December 4, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The overturning of Quebec's new law legalizing euthanasia a week before it was to come into force will save lives in the short term and maybe in the long term, say pro-life, Christian, and medical critics, and potentially kill a badly conceived law that threatened the expansion of  genuine palliative care there.

The decision itself, by Justice Michel Pinsonnault of the Quebec Superior Court, was simple: killing people is a matter for the Criminal Code of Canada and a clear-cut federal responsibility under the constitution. A provincial government could not legalize it.

"The judge said what was obvious to everyone outside the government," Dr. Catherine Ferrier, the head of Quebec Living with Dignity and Physicians for Life, told LifeSiteNews. "You can't turn euthanasia into health care just by inserting the word 'medical.'" The Quebec government insisted that by using the euphemism "medical aid in dying" for euthanasia, it moved the practice to health care, which constitutionally is a provincial responsibility.

"It's good news," Dr. Ferrier told LifeSiteNews. "In the short term, it means the law doesn't come into effect, and some people won't die that will have died. In the long term, it depends on whether the judgement stands up under appeal."

But even if it does, adds the doctor, the Criminal Code's prohibition on assisted suicide and perhaps euthanasia (where a doctor does the killing) is itself due to be thrown out by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in February on the Carter case, which won't come into effect until February 2016.

Dr. Ferrier said her group as well as palliative care doctors in the province protested the Quebec law because it "does not just permit euthanasia, as in Europe; it mandates it. So every hospital and health care institution must do it."

As for individual doctors, while they will not be forced to euthanize patients, they will be required to refer patients to doctors or agencies that will. "I will refuse to do it," she told LifeSiteNews, if the Quebec law is revived, admitting that this will pit her and other doctors and nurses with conscientious objections in a legal battle with the government over freedom of conscience.

She said she hoped the revision to the Criminal Code, which the federal government is expected to introduce in Parliament next year, will protect doctors' freedom of conscience.

Opponents of the overturned law also had concerns that it would slow the growth of palliative care, which the provincial government has just promised more funding for. Even so, Ferrier said, some regions of Quebec where palliative care is underdeveloped could be required to provide euthanasia immediately if Quebec's law is restored. "They will get used to euthanizing patients, which is cheaper than palliative care, and may never develop true palliative care."

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Alex Schadenberg, the head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said legalizing euthanasia in the Netherlands has poisoned palliative care there. Between 2001, when it was legalized, and 2010, euthanasia's share of all causes of death barely changed, said Schadenberg, citing a 2010 Lancet report. But what did increase hugely were deaths by the palliative care treatment called "deep continuous sedation," whereby a patient in pain is so heavily dosed with sedatives, while being denied fluids, that he or she dies. Deep continuous sedation was already killing twice as many people as euthanasia in 2001, when it accounted for 5.6% of all deaths. By 2005, its share had grown to 8.2%, and by 2010 to 12.3% – a more than 100% increase since euthanasia was legalized.

The explanation, Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews, is that legalization "brought in a ton of new regulations" for doctors who never had to do any extra paperwork when they euthanized illegally before that. So doctors averse to paperwork resorted instead to death by palliative care.

In Schadenberg's view, the Carter decision is much narrower in scope than the Quebec law, meaning the Criminal Code could end up being narrower, too, though Schadenberg's is a minority opinion. The Carter decision, he argues, permits assisted suicide but permits euthanasia only when the person seeking it is physically incapable of killing himself or herself. The Quebec law reverses this: it doesn't permit assisted suicide at all while allowing euthanasia under a wide range of circumstances.

However, Larry Worthen, head of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, said "most legal authorities agree" that the Carter decision legalized both euthanasia and assisted suicide "on broader terms than anywhere else in the world where legalization has occurred."

Could the federal government still produce a revision of the Criminal Code that would be narrower than Carter? Yes, says Worthen. "We have seen legal opinions that Parliament could justify restrictions by stating it has an interest in protecting the lives of Canadians."

Worthen says the significance of  Judge Pinsonnault's ruling is that "you can't turn euthanasia into something it's not by calling it 'health care.'" Noting the hysterical response of Quebec politicians to the decision, Worthen said, "They have fallen for their own propaganda."

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