There is ferment brewing in Quebec that concerns the future of all Canadians. But it's not about separation or sovereignty association. It is about euthanasia. Based on involvement so far, more Quebecois will participate in the hearings of the Quebec Special Select Committee on Dying with Dignity which begin in September, than on any other topic in the history of Quebec public consultation.
Quebecois are right to be concerned. It is not a simple matter for the state to legalize the killing of another person. It is a complex moral issue with serious ramifications and significant potential for abuse. These hearings are of profound importance to all Canadians.
No matter how it is dressed up, dying with dignity advocates want to legalize the killing of another person. I hope to convince you in this and subsequent blogs that good alternatives already exist to answer the concerns most people have that might lead them to consider asking someone to end their life.
I believe dying with dignity/right to die/assisted suicide advocates represent an extremely small group of people. By this I mean a handful of people would use the option they are proposing. Yet they are asking for the rights of this handful to trump the rights and obligations of not just the majority of us but virtually all of us. They are asking us to trespass on the role of doctor as healer adding killing to their job description. And ultimately they are giving up on the complexity and mystery of death and dying making it appear as simply a 'technical' matter.
Yet they raise issues about what makes us
human and about person-hood and all its mysteries. So perhaps it's
time we gave our ethical muscles some overdue exercise.
This applies to those of us who: haven't given the issue much thought but are perhaps afraid of dying in pain; are sympathetic to those who might be dying in pain; fear a future where their quality of life changes dramatically; and perhaps paradoxically and most basically, are afraid of dying.
According to the Globe and Mail the majority of Quebecois support euthanasia. One has to wonder what questions were posed to them. Nevertheless the pro-euthanasia side is well organized and has tapped into a sympathetic media; a confusion about terminology and perhaps our deepest fears. However, there are signs things are changing.
instance, the Quebec college of physicians released a poll last year
showing 75 per cent support among its members for legalizing euthanasia,
or at least decriminalizing it. The figure was widely reported in the
media and became a central argument for the Quebec Government pressing ahead on its own
regardless of Canadian criminal law. What went unnoticed – until it was
raised by prominent orthopedic surgeon Marc Beauchamp in a bitterly
critical letter to Montreal’s largest French-language newspaper – was
that only 23 per cent of doctors even responded to the survey from which
the 75 per cent number was derived.
“Most of the doctors I know dismissed
the survey as embarrassing rubbish,” Beauchamp says. “They didn’t even
bother responding. So the so-called 75 per cent support is based on
responses from less than a quarter of doctors. It is a completely
Still, it was a crucial factor in
creating the impression that Quebec’s doctors and intelligentsia were
supportive of using provincial powers to decriminalize euthanasia.
In mid-August a group of more than 50 McGill University professors, including
several from faculties of medicine and pharmacy, openly and directly
challenges that assumption. As reported in the Montreal Gazette they: warned that
Quebec risks making doctors "society's executioners" by attempting to
decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Living+with+dignity+group+message/3392380/story.html#ixzz0y7JwrPVX
The source of my information on the Quebec hearings is Linda Couture who I had the pleasure of meeting in June in Montreal. She established the 'Living with Dignity' coalition as a nonpartisan, nonreligious group focused on
end-of-life issues. Their objectives are straightforward: protection of vulnerable citizens; and compassionate support by improving and expanding palliative care. Here are quotes from Linda in the Montreal Gazette. "Our biggest concern, and what's at stake here, is that we don't want
the practice of euthanasia smuggled into the public health care system
under the guise of medical treatment."
"There's a lot of confusion with definition of terms in end-of-life
care, for example, between palliative sedation and
euthanasia. Few people want to suffer but there's no need to kill the patient to kill the pain."
I admit a bias. I see this issue through the lens of people with disabilities. And my direct involvement in one of Canada's most prominent 'right to die' controversies – the situation involving a young teenager, Stephen Dawson. I have a number of insights which I will post in my next blog.
In the interim I suggest you check out Living With Dignity's website. Linda and her cohorts have done us a service by raising the funds to translate it into English. You can also sign their on line petition at: http://www.vivredignite.com/en/manifesto.html I know they would appreciate your support.
Note: Killing is a stark, cold word. I have searched for a synonym but was left with bland euphemisms. Apologies if I have offended anyone.