Euthanasia Hearings Begin in Quebec

Euthanasia, always a controversial topic, is about to get alot of media attention again…

From CTV.ca

As public hearings on the controversial topic of dying with dignity get underway in Quebec, the chair of the committee expects debate to become emotional.

Quebec Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley says it’s been 17 years since B.C.’s Sue Rodriguez brought the issues of mercy killing to the fore, when she fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to kill herself. And though the court eventually ruled against her, the debate has never gone away, he says.

“It’s a debate Canadians have seen before… but the feeling in Quebec is that we’re ripe to have this discussion,” he told CTV’s Canada AM from Montreal, where the hearings got underway Tuesday.

Kelley says it was the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons that invited his committee of elected officials to review medical practices on euthanasia and end-of-life care.

“With advances in medical technology and with using medications, the conditions of end of life contain grey zones that doctors have identified. They’d like to have some clear indication of what is and what isn’t permitted,” he explained.

The committee has already heard from 32 legal and medical experts on the issues and it will now be the public’s turn to join the discussion.

Some 300 written and oral submissions from the public are expected, while another 3,300 citizens have filled out an online questionnaire.

“Clearly, we’ve hit a sensitive chord in the population. People want to talk about these issues because it touches some of the most important moments of our lives,” Kelley said.

“So it’s going to be an emotional debate, it’s going to be an interesting debate and I’m sure it’s one that will be of interest to all Canadians.”

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in Canada; these hearings won’t change that. But the debate about what is legal – and what is right – has been revived in recent years, with organizations representing doctors calling for changes to rules governing euthanasia.

Some doctors note that euthanasia already happens all the time, with medical professional quietly hastening death through many means, such as increasing dosages of narcotics.

Others want to discuss assisted suicide, which is somewhat different and is defined as having someone counsel or help someone who has decided to end his or her own life. Still others want to discuss palliative care and the conditions at end of life.

“We want to make some things more clear and answer some of the question that people who are pushing for change have raised,” says Kelley.

The two sides of the euthanasia and assisted suicide debates include people who are concerned that opening the door to the practices will endanger society’s most vulnerable people, such as those suffering from dementia or who are physically handicapped.

“There is a fear is that if you open this door, maybe at first it will only affect people who are gravely ill, but perhaps the door will be widened to other people who are vulnerable,” says Kelley.

On the other side of the debate are those who say everyone should have the right to decide how their own life ends.

“There are people who say why suffer unduly, particularly people who suffer from degenerative diseases whose end of life is often in great agony. Some of it can be managed with medication but not all of it, and these people say if death is coming anyway, why not just hasten it when it can happen right away and put an end to someone’s suffering?” says Kelley.

The Select Committee on Dying with Dignity will visit 11 communities across Quebec, starting in Montreal.

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2 thoughts on “Euthanasia Hearings Begin in Quebec

  1. Euthanasia is one of those issues like prenatal testing where many disability activists, myself included, find themselves lining up somewhat uncomfortably with social conservatives.

    I do have serious reservations with euthanasia, but it isn’t so much the slippery slope argument (though that’s part of it). Firstly, I question whether it is possible to make “unbiased” choices on behalf of someone else, given the negative attitudes regarding disability in our society. Representatives of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, when testifying (I believe) before this very committee, told the story of how family members put up a picture of a woman in her graduation gown above the woman’s hospital bed so that those treating her would understand that she had a life worth living. There’s an element of the slippery slope here, but I think it’s broader because I’m unsure that the ableism in our society would not pervade every end-of-life decision.

    Secondly, and I think this is more important, I believe that euthanasia can result in a tendency to treat social problems with medical solutions. I haven’t thought about this tendency enough to fully articulate why I find it so problematic, but I think it’s what I find so wrong with a large number of practices including eugenic sterilization, rehabilitation of homosexuals, over-prescription of depression and anxiety treating drugs, and of course the medicalization of disability among other practices.

    One element I dislike about this tendency to treat social problems medically is that it doesn’t seem to get to the cause of the problem. If the problem is socially created, it seems to me like it should have a social solution. I feel that if we do manage medically to treat “successfully” a social problem without addressing the underlying cause, the problem is likely to simply re-emerge in another form.

    Another aspect I find problematic, especially in the case of disability, is that a large amount of energy and resources can end up being spent trying to come up with a treatment or cure that is never actually discovered. And if those resources were directed at changing the social conditions that, at the very least, exacerbate disability, then we might find that not only those who we are intending to help are better off, but also that everyone benefits from a society that is designed to be as accessible as possible.

    Having said all of that, I still can’t help finding the euthanasia issue very difficult. I believe that too a much greater extent than is commonly thought, the experience of pain is a social issue, but it does seem at some point there is just very little that society can do to eliminate a person’s pain, and if we lived in a less ableist society, and if we directed our resources at finding social solutions to social problems, then I would be comfortable with a person deciding that her pain was so great as to make life not worth living. Unfortunately, though, at least for euthanasia proponents, I feel like we have to meet those conditions before euthanasia becomes an ethically acceptable option.

    Marc Workman

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