Tuesday September 7, 2010

Public Hearings on Euthanasia in Quebec Begin Today

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

QUEBEC, September 7, 2010 ( – The provincial commission set up to look at euthanasia and assisted suicide in Quebec begins its ten-city tour seeking public input, starting in Montreal today.

The Quebec government agreed late last year to establish the commission to seek public and expert opinion on the issue in response to a motion filed by three members of the province’s Parti Quebecois (PQ), including leader Pauline Marois (Charlevoix), who asked Premier Jean Charest to establish such a commission.

Although euthanasia and assisted suicide are prohibited under the federal criminal code, the Quebec government could effectively legalize both forms of medical killing by directing provincial Crown prosecutors not to lay charges against doctors who end the lives of the terminally ill, elderly or profoundly disabled.

Liberal member of the Quebec legislature and president of the commission, Geoffrey Kelley, said that Quebec could imitate British Columbia’s ‘‘selective’’ attitude to prosecution of assisted suicide cases, and suggested that a way to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide in the province that circumvents the federal government could be found.

“It’s been suggested that British Columbia has been far more selective in charging people with assisted suicide,” Kelley told the media. “Palliative care, questions of the code of ethics for medical professions, all those are under the provincial jurisdiction, as are questions of the administration of justice.”

When the commission, entitled “Dying with Dignity,” held its first hearings for medical, ethical and legal experts in February, doctors said that patients in Quebec hospitals were already being euthanized.

Gaétan Barrette, president of the Federation of Quebec Medical Specialists (FMSQ), told the hearing that euthanasia is already being practiced in the province, as doctors know when death is “imminent and inevitable.” He asked for the province to develop clear policies on how doctors can bring about a patient’s death, stating that currently doctors believe they could be charged with murder for giving a “palliative sedative” to a patient before they have reached the point of death.

“What is called palliative sedation in itself is an action that will induce death at the very end of life,” Dr. Barrette said. “That in essence is a form of euthanasia. We could be prosecuted for that. We are not promoting euthanasia. We think it is time to have a law. Practically, we think that legislation is not synchronized with public opinion in this province.”

However, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg, said there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of euthanasia, which has been especially exacerbated by the Quebec College of Physicians (CMQ). He stated that the proper use of palliative sedation does not constitute euthanasia.

“The Quebec Physicians have been creating confusion about the issue of the use of pain drugs [and] terminal sedation,” Schadenberg said.

“Let’s be clear about what this is about,” he said. “Euthanasia is the direct and intentional cause of [a person’s] death, usually by a physician. Sedating people … even aggressively, if it’s done properly, if it’s not abused, is not euthanasia.”

The confusion over euthanasia is “creating a freeze,” Schadenberg explained. “Physicians who are not well-trained in palliative care are hesitating to use large doses of pain management drugs because they don’t want to euthanize someone, whereas in fact, we don’t want people to be in pain. … This false discussion has created this type of a problem.”

Groups like Vivre dans la Dignité (Living with Dignity), that are urging Quebecers to join the campaign to stop euthanasia and assisted suicide from being “smuggled” into the public health care system under the guise of medical treatment, are worried that the confusion over what constitutes euthanasia might cause some people to support the practice.

The group says that Quebecers must tell the Charest government that euthanasia and assisted suicide must be rejected as “unnecessary and dangerous.”

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are killing, plain and simple. We cannot allow killing to be confused with health care in Quebec,” said Linda Couture, director of Living with Dignity.

Couture said the provincial government must direct its efforts and resources to offering Quebecers the best possible end of life care, including ready access to palliative care, rather than encouraging euthanasia and assisted suicide just to save money.

“We realize euthanasia often gets included among other controversial social issues, but our entire concern is stopping euthanasia and assisted suicide by working to ensure that all Quebecers facing end of life have access to palliative care,” she said.

For further information on Living with Dignity (Vivre dans la Dignité) visit their website:

English website

French website

Online manifesto

Information on the “Dying with Dignity” public hearings schedule is available here.

See related LSN reports:

New Grassroots Group Calls Quebecers to Action against Euthanasia

Quebec Government Set to Initiate Public Debate on the “Right to Die”

Quebec Man Charged with Assisting Uncle to Commit Suicide Acquitted

Former Dutch Health Minister Admits Error of Legalizing Euthanasia

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