Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why the Quebec government must reject Bill 52, the euthanasia bill.

The following article was published in the Montreal Gazette on June 25 under the title: Why Bill 52 should not become law.

By Dr Marc Beauchamp and Michel Racicot

Marc Beauchamp & Michel Racicot
MONTREAL — Bill 52, which the Marois government is calling “an act respecting end-of-life care” designed to support the “right to die with dignity,” includes a component aimed at decriminalizing and legalizing certain forms of active euthanasia.

As a means to confuse the population, euthanasia is presented under the neologism “medical aid in dying” and disguised as “end-of-life care.” However, the government’s terminology is not based on any semantic recognition in known medical literature, or in our country’s case law.

No national or international medical authority either defines or recognizes “medical aid in dying.” We must therefore expose it for what it really is: a synonym for “active euthanasia.”

In addition, Bill 52 introduces the concept of “terminal palliative sedation,” a concept not defined in the bill, and one that causes a lot of confusion. Inasmuch as the goal of such sedation is to cause death, and not to relieve pain, it is also another form of euthanasia.

It therefore appears clear that the bill essentially aims, using this newly invented terminology, to eliminate a prohibition — which goes back 24 centuries — on a physician voluntarily ending a patient’s life.

Furthermore, Bill 52 is contrary to principles expressed in the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and freedoms. The worth or dignity of a person does not diminish because of his or her age, state or capacity.

The justifications invoked by the minister responsible for Bill 52 in support of “medical aid in dying” relate to the need for a humanistic and compassionate approach, implying that rejection of euthanasia would be a sign of a lack of compassion on the part of medical staff. Such an affirmation, false and otherwise improper, undermines the recognition of all those who provide care, with humanity and dedication, to suffering patients in Quebec, and who believe that medical staff should not offer euthanasia to end-of-life patients, or cause their death. Nobody has the right to challenge the compassion and humanity of these health professionals, either in Quebec or anywhere else in the world.

Furthermore, the government refuses to consider issues that will undoubtedly be raised by the implementation of such legislation. It minimizes the warnings of numerous medical experts regarding the harm that could come to people in a state of physical or mental vulnerability, especially people who have impaired judgment or are suffering from depression.

The government also chooses to ignore the warnings against potential abuses. In order to obtain medical aid in dying, a person will have to satisfy certain conditions specified in Sections 26 and following of the bill. But these conditions do not apply to terminal palliative sedation. And the conditions are essentially the same as those adopted in Belgium, a country that allows medically assisted death. There is a significant body of international scientific literature demonstrating the ineffectiveness of safeguards imposed in Belgium and in the Netherlands, another country that permits assisted dying.

Allowing medical aid in dying opens the door to unavoidable abuse. Society cannot tolerate a single case of abuse when a human life depends on it.

By introducing Bill 52, the government is ignoring the separation of powers between the federal government and the provinces, and overlooks the fact that active euthanasia, both in the form of medical aid in dying or terminal palliative sedation with the intent of causing death, constitutes homicide and is already considered to be a criminal act under the Criminal Code of Canada. 

Killing is not care. Killing has nothing to do with the health-care system. Quebec therefore has no jurisdiction to decriminalize euthanasia.

Consequently, we are urging Quebec’s elected officials, more specifically those sitting with the opposition parties in the National Assembly, who share a responsibility for protecting the population, to vote against legalizing euthanasia as provided in this bill.

Marc Beauchamp is a founding member of and spokesperson for Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Michel Racicot is a retired lawyer and member of the board of directors of the Living With Dignity Citizens’ Network.

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