Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Assisted-dying law would bring risks for the vulnerable

The following article was written by Nic Steenhout, the director of Vivre dans la Dignité, and published in the Montreal Gazette on November 12, 2013

Re: “Opposition to bill on assisted dying tends to be markedly one-sided” (Opinion, Nov. 11)

Nic Steenhout
By Nic Steenhout

Wayne Sumner would have us believe that the eligibility criteria for medical aid in dying under the bill are strict and narrow.

A close analysis of Article 26 of the bill tells us that to qualify, one must be adult, competent and be a resident of Quebec, have a grave and incurable illness, experience an advanced decline of abilities, and have physical or psychological pain that one deems unbearable. At no point in the eligibility criteria is “end of life” mentioned. At no point in the bill is “end of life” even defined.

These eligibility criteria would open access to medical aid in dying to many people with disabilities. Someone living multiple sclerosis could qualify, even if they have years of a full and active life ahead of them. Someone unable to handle the emotional trauma of losing her sight could qualify and be euthanized (as happened recently in the Netherlands). Someone unable to handle the anguish of a botched gender reassignment surgery could qualify and be euthanized (as happened recently in Belgium). Someone with chronic severe depression could qualify.

Palliative-care doctors tell us that pain can be treated in 95 per cent of cases. The remaining 5 per cent of people have access to palliative sedation.

This is already legal. There is no need to implement a law that is such a risk to our elders and people with disabilities.

Despite what the proponents of the bill claim, experience from countries where euthanasia is legal shows us that we are talking about significant numbers. The author of the article says 3 per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands are medically assisted. In Quebec in 2012, there were 60,800 deaths. Three per cent of that would be 1,824 medically assisted deaths. I fail to see how hastening the death of nearly 2,000 people could be seen as “quite small.” Considering the hue and cry over Quebec’s death toll on the roads (479 in 2011), the question is, how can we not be concerned about the risks such a bill brings to Quebec’s most vulnerable groups: elders and people with disabilities?

Nicolas Steenhout
Outremont Quebec

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