Quebec euthanasia bill tabled

Michael Cook
June 23, 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The Quebec government has tabled euthanasia legislation after nearly five years of debate. If approved by the province's assembly, it will be the most radical end-of-life law in North America.

The bill has been drafted to circumvent the national criminal code which bans assisted suicide and euthanasia. In a creative bit of legal legerdemain, it describes euthanasia as a health issue which is the responsibility of the provincial government.

Social Services Minister Véronique Hivon insists that while assisted suicide is clearly banned by the criminal code, euthanasia is not. "There are general provisions and there is something specific about assisted suicide but nothing on euthanasia," Ms Hivon says. In fact, the bill mentions "aid in dying" and "terminal sedation", but the word "euthanasia" does not appear.

The Quebec government will also decline to use the national law to prosecute doctors who euthanase patients. This is the same strategy it used in the 1970s, when abortion was banned nationally, but permitted in Quebec.

The bill appears to have broad bipartisan support in the assembly. However, the vote will take place after a long summer break and opponents will be lobbying hard to stop it. The issue is sure to be fiercely debated.

"This is not care. It is killing patients because they don't get the proper care they should," says Paul Saba, of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice. "We are giving a free hand to end the life of people. There will be abuse. This is immoral and unconscionable … life is too precious."