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