Late last week, a radical new Euthanasia bill passed into law by a free vote in the National Assembly in Quebec. The bill, Bill 52, passed Thursday afternoon, by a margin of 94 to 22 with no abstentions.
The bill was re-introduced despite strong objections from disability advocates and palliative care leaders. Quebec joins four US states where physician assisted suicide in legal as well as European countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
The measure makes it legal for a physician, who has been given consent by a patient, to administer a lethal injection for a purpose of causing the patient’s death.
The new legislation goes further than any of the laws passed so far in the United States. While in the U.S. a patient must have a life expectancy of less than six months, Quebec’s criteria is more vague. According to the legislation, patients must be adults with an incurable illness who suffer from “constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain.”
The new legislation will require all health institutions (including hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities) to provide euthanasia and all physicians to be complicit in it, regardless of their conscience.
Every health institution must “offer end-of-life care and ensure that it is provided to the persons requiring it in continuity and complementarity with any other care that is or has been provided to them.” Bill 52 defines an “institution” as a community service center, a hospital center, or a residential and long-term care center; however, the bill also allows for “medical aid in dying” to be administered at a patient’s home. All of these institutions will be required to provide terminal sedation, wherein the patient is put into a coma and then dehydrated to death, or euthanasia.
Quebec’s new legislation also makes considerable impositions on the consciences of physicians. Doctors will be required to be the ones to actually kill their patients and not merely allow them to do it themselves. According to Section 29 of the legislation, “If a physician determines, subsequent to the application of section 28, that medical aid in dying may be administered to a patient requesting it, the physician must administer such aid personally and take care of the patient until their death.”
If the physician believes that to deliberately kill their patients would be to violate their conscience, the legislation demands that they, regardless of whether they practice at one of these aforementioned health institutions or are in private practice, refer the patient to someone who will. This provision forces the doctor to be complicit in this process, whatever his or her objections may be.
It should be noted that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) rejected a proposal to support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide – voting against it at their annual conference in August. On this issue they stand in agreement with the American Medical Association (AMA) which continues to stand firm in its condemnation of the practice. According to the AMA, “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
Alex Schadenberg, President of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, states, “Bill 52 gives Quebec physicians the right to intentionally and directly cause the death of person by lethal injection. This represents an act of homicide and not an act of end of life care.”
Schadenberg notes that Quebec’s law is heavily based on the euthanasia law which currently exists in Belgium, which has been rife with controversy and subject to frequent accusations of abuse. Belgium has moved beyond euthanizing adults with terminal illnesses and now those suffering from depression and even children are candidates for euthanasia. Arguably even more disturbing is the high percent of euthanasia deaths which have been performed in that country without a request. A 2010 study showed that 32% of euthanasia deaths in Flanders, the Flemish region of Belgium, were performed without explicit consent. Another study on the role of nurses in physician assisted suicide in Belgium revealed that 45% of these deaths were not performed with explicit consent.
The passage of this legislation is indeed a tragedy. This law fails to recognize the intrinsic dignity of those with terminal illnesses and provide them with true care as well as trampling on the conscience rights of physicians- forcing them to be complicit in this sad practice. Additionally, as the situation in Belgium has made clear, the passage of this law opens Quebec up to a plethora of ills which will continue to weaken the respect for the sanctity of human life.
Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.