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-Quebec: Doctors Mull over Euthanasia

by Dr. D ~ February 17th, 2010

A surgical team from Wilford Hall Medical Cent...
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Doctors testifying before a National Committee said that they were ready to debate euthanasia.

Recent polls indicate that a high percentage of Quebecers actually favor some form of euthanasia, including doctors. Quebec is already the only jurisdiction in Canada where patients can refuse vital medical treatment which in some cases does lead to death.

Some doctors seem to be ready to consider it while others are not so sure. Gaétan Barrette, president of the federation of Quebec medical specialists, told the committee that doctors know when death is “imminent and inevitable” but currently can be charged with murder if they administer a “palliative sedative” and help in the process.

Barrette said palliative care to ease the pain at the end should be an important facet of end-of-life care as long as the choice of the patient is not violated:

“The choice of the patient is his choice. We want legislation in tune with the wishes of the public.”

Both Gaétan Barrette and Yves Lamontagne of the Quebec College of Physicians told the committee that doctors do not want to perform assisted suicides and would want to draw the line there. Taking care of the already dying is one thing and assisting in someone’s suicide is apparently something entirely different.

Response: Can you say ‘slippery slope’? In these cases everyone involved will probably deny it. However, if today it is alright to assist those who are already dying to die faster and easier then in the future what comes next? The lines of demarcation are often blurred in the heat of the battle.

Next up, are those who are not dying but face permanent ‘quality of life’ issues that many people would choose not to live with. Then there’s those who are healthy but just want to ‘off’ themselves. The doctors apparently draw the line there right now.

I see no discussion of the ‘ethics’ of euthanasia here, only a nod to practicality and to public opinion. No reference either to the Creator, religious teaching, or the Word of God.

If new guidelines are legislated that allow some forms of euthanasia than these would become part of Canada’s health care system and will be paid for by all Canadians—even Christians and others who for ethical and religious reasons may oppose it.

A dictatorship of the opinion poll majority in play? Yes, and a ‘slippery slope’ indeed!           *Top

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1 Response to -Quebec: Doctors Mull over Euthanasia

  1. Eric Folot

    For assisted suicide but against voluntary euthanasia !

    About the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must distinguish between the legal, ethical and religious arguments. One cannot just say without qualification that there is no difference between the two : in one case it is the patient himself who take his own life (assisted suicide), whereas in euthanasia it is the physician. One must first specify on what grounds (legal, ethical or religious) he draws is arguments. In the field of ethics, one can reasonably argue that there is no difference between the two. However, in the legal field, there is a difference between euthanasia (so-called first-degree murder with a minimum sentence of life imprisonment) and assisted suicide (which is not a murder or homicide and which the maximum sentence is 14 years of imprisonment). In the case of assisted suicide, the cause of death is the patient’s suicide and assisted suicide is somehow a form of complicity (infraction of complicity). But since the attempted suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972 (and in 1810 in France), this complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

    « In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, “is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone”: Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

    In contrast, voluntary euthanasia is considered a first-degree murder. The doctor kills the patient (at his request) by compassion to relieve his pain and suffering. There’s a violation of one of the most fundamental ethical and legal principles : the prohibition to kill a human being. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can remove a person’s life. The end of the social contract is “the preservation of the contractors” and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We’ve abolished the death penalty in 1976 (and in 1981 in France) in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! Even if voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the patient) may, under certain circumstances, be justified ethically, we cannot ipso facto concluded that euthanasia should be legalized or decriminalized. The legalization or decriminalization of such an act requires that we take into account the social consequences of the legalization or decriminalization. The undeniable potential of abuse (especially for the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will) and the risk of erosion of the social ethos by the recognition of this practice are factors that must be taken into account. The risk of slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent patient) to non-voluntary euthanasia (without the consent of the incompetent patient) or involuntary (without regard to or against the consent of the competent patient) are real as confirmed by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which states :

    “There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used as well to eliminate those who are a burden to others or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject’s consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act ».

    Eric Folot

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