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Tuesday August 09, 2016

 

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Written by Deborah Rankin for VMO
Friday, July 18th, 2014

Dr. Paul J. Saba, a Quebec family physician who filed a lawsuit against Quebec's 'right-to-die legislation' in May along with co-plaintiff Lisa D'Amico, a handicapped person, is due to appear in Montréal Superior Court next week to discuss preliminary issues regarding the case, according to his lawyer Dominique Talarico.

The President of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice is warning parents that if the law isn't overturned, euthanasia will likely be extended to children and people with mental health problems, as is  already the case in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Noting that the Quebec Human Rights Commission has recommended that the controversial practice be extended  to minors, as well as vulnerable adults who are not apt to give informed-consent, Saba said that many "innocent persons" will die needlessly because of errors in diagnosis, poor prognosis, and lack of access to palliative care and adequate social services. In the case of an emancipated minor of 14 years of age or older, they could petition the courts to end their life, arguing that the current regime of "medical aid in dying" is discriminatory.

Dr. Saba said that the Quebec Government has turned a "deaf ear" to rational arguments in favor of a pre-determined agenda. "Euthanasia is not medical treatment," he stressed. "The Québec Government does not have the right to legislate euthanasia as a medical practice.

Euthanasia is against all the laws of this province and this country."

He said that it is also contrary to medical ethics and as such has no place in palliative care, highlighting the fact that medical associations worldwide have condemned euthanasia, exhorting doctors not to  administer a lethal injection even if  it is legal in jurisdictions where there are so-called "safeguards" in place.

Elsewhere, other opponents of Quebec's right-to-die legislation are planning to challenge it in court even as the Supreme Court of Canada is poised to hear a BC appeal that could overturn the ban on assisted-suicide.

Michel Racicot, spokesperson for the Quebec group Living With Dignity, recently told the Toronto Sun that he could not say definitively when the citizens network would initiate legal action "but we are going to court." In a press release the group stated: "Killing a patient, even at her request, is not a medical treatment; it is homicide and, as such, prohibited by the Criminal Code."

The announcement came on the same day that Quebec passed Bill 52 legalizing medical aid in dying as part of a wider approach to end-of-life care. However, the new law's critics say that catchphrases like  'assisted-dying' and 'assisted-suicide' are euphemisms for euthanasia, which is anathema to genuine healthcare.

Mary Ann Dewey-Plante, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Peter Mackay, said the federal government's position is that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assisted-suicide and euthanasia are  constitutionally valid, and in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in society.

Justice Department press secretary Paloma Aguilar noted in a statement, that “in April 2010 a large majority of parliamentarians voted not to change the laws which was an expression of democratic will on the topic."

In a response to the passage of Quebec's new law, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family said, "June 5, 2014, will now go down as one of the saddest days in the history of “La belle province”. Masked as “medical aid in dying”, euthanasia is now legal in Québec."

The COLF statement went on to say, "this event represents a call of unprecedented urgency, a call to take a stand in defense of those groups who will resist and challenge this new law. This is also a strong call to demand quality palliative care for all Quebecers who need to be accompanied with compassion until their natural death."

In a related development, the BC Civil Liberties Union will argue for the right-to-die before the Supreme Court of Canada in October in a case stemming from the deceased plaintiff Gloria Taylor after the federal government won on appeal in BC. Taylor made headlines in 2012 when the BC Supreme Court ruled the existing ban on assisted-suicide was unconstitutional. The ruling was delayed for a year giving the federal government time to rewrite the statue.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher has introduced two private members bills that, taken together, would permit doctor-assisted suicide in restricted circumstances.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has just recently been granted intervenor standing at the Supreme Court of Canada. In a press release the EPC said that its "intervention is based on the fact that legalizing euthanasia will eliminate protections in law for vulnerable Canadians, that in all other jurisdictions, courts have concluded that there is no constitutional right to euthanasia or assisted suicide and that abuses are occurring in jurisdictions where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are legal."

A new report on euthanasia and assisted-suicide by the The Canadian Medical Association was blunt in its criticism of the practise of deliberately ending life by medical means, calling it "therapeutic homicide."

The doctor's lobby opposes the practice because it runs counter to the Hippocratic Oath, the foundation of medicine which commits doctors to saving lives while swearing them never to take a life.

The CMA report stressed that a "good death" is considered to be one as free from pain as possible, with as much dignity as possible, and involves doctors who specialize in end-of-life care. Noting that less than 30 per cent of Canadians who will die in 2014 will have access to palliative care, the organization is calling for the development of a national palliative care strategy.

If the event that the law in Canada is changed to allow euthanasia or physician-assisted death, the medical association "strongly urges" that strict protocols and safeguards be put in place to protect vulnerable individuals. This is of particular concern given the fact that some Quebec doctors are calling for a more extensive list of those who qualify for lethal injection, including children.

Last February Belgium passed a law extending the right-to-die to children, provided they meet the criteria and request it. The prospect of children being able to end their lives without any possibility of giving true informed-consent - given their youthful immaturity, lack of knowledge, and susceptibility to manipulation - is alarming to many Canadians, but very real.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition expects the law to open the floodgates to the same abuses that are taking place in Belgium, where studies have shown that people are being euthanized without requesting it, and where the  criteria for eligibility in medicalized death is expanding.

The federal government has said that it will review Quebec's bill. However, this will likely be a mere formality as Health Minister Rona Ambrose has said that the Conservative Government is unwavering in its opposition to the law. "We do not support assisted-suicide - that is our government's clear position."

Ambrose made these comments following discussions with her provincial counterparts. She said that if things end up in court, then the courts would have to decide about the jurisdiction and whether Quebec would have the ability to legalize the practice. Quebec has implicitly changed the legal framework in healthcare from the 'right-to-life' to a 'right-to-die', by bringing in doctor-assisted suicide on health grounds which fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Quebec Health Minister Rejean Hebert disagreed with the characterization of his province's bill as simply about assisted suicide, saying that it was about end-of-life and palliative care, while defining the criteria for medical aid in dying. Quebec is the first province in Canada to adopt right-to-die legislation.

Other ministers made it clear that they would not be raising an issue in their home provinces that Ambrose called "very emotional" and "very divisive." However, Manitoba's Health Minister Theresa Oswald said that by putting the issue before Canadians this had been "transformative" in terms of raising awareness about the stakes involved in doctor-assisted suicide, while Alberta's Health Minister Fred Horne suggested the media rather than the public were leading the current discussion.

Parti Quebecois MNA Veronique Hivon who spearheaded the bill when she was a cabinet minister in Pauline Marois' PQ government said that the legislation should not be viewed as "medical aid to die" but "end of life" care.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard voted for the bill, after initial reservations. Mr. Couillard who was a neurosurgeon before entering politics, said he applauded changes in the bill adopted in committee hearings, especially those allowing doctors to object to administering medications that would lead to death. "Without such changes, I would not have been able to support the bill."

He said that his experience with dying patients convinced him people do not want to die, but they do want to end their suffering. "Not once did patients tell me that they wanted to die. But they often told me that they no longer wanted to endure the pain and wanted to go to sleep," he said.

 

 

 

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