On March 22, the Quebec government’s Dying with Dignity Commission released its recommendations concerning euthanasia and palliative care. The media reported that the commission recommended the legalization of assisted suicide in exceptional cases.
In fact, the commission recommends that euthanasia be legalized – but not assisted suicide – in Quebec. The commission’s recommendations are similar to Belgianstyle euthanasia, which is not limited to exceptional cases.
The first half of the report contains recommendations for improving palliative care, including the need for greater public awareness of the full range of palliative care options available today. We at the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) support these recommendations. EPC believes that improvements to pain and symptom management must be systematically implemented before the issue of euthanasia can be fairly addressed.
Euthanasia is when one person, often a physician, directly and intentionally causes the death of another person by lethal injection for reasons of mercy. Euthanasia is prosecuted as a homicide in Canada and in nearly every jurisdiction in the world. Legalizing euthanasia requires an amendment to the homicide statute in the Criminal Code giving one person the right to cause the death of another person in certain situations. Such an action would cause a profound shift in the relationship that people share with medical professionals and with each other within society.
The Quebec report states that a person should be eligible for euthanasia if the person:
– is a resident of Quebec;
– is an adult and able to consent to treatment;
– makes a free and informed decision;
– has a serious and incurable disease;
– has no prospect for improvement; and
– is experiencing physical or psychological suffering.
It is important to note that the commission’s report does not limit euthanasia to terminally ill people. A person who is living with an incurable condition and chronic psychological suffering, such as someone with chronic depression or another chronic mental condition, could be euthanized.
A study from the Netherlands that was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (September 2005) found that people with a depressed mood were 4.1 times more likely to request euthanasia. The study concluded that a depressed mood is a primary indicator for requests for euthanasia.
The commission recommends that euthanasia deaths be reported, after the death, to monitor and evaluate whether the law is being abused. But the reporting procedure does not protect people. If (and when) a report is analyzed, and if an abuse has occurred, the person is already dead; so no effective redress is possible.
In Belgium, studies indicate that the law has been abused. A study published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association (May 2010) found that 32% of euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium occurred without request or consent, while a study that was published in the British Medical Journal (Oct. 2010) found that 47% of euthanasia deaths in the same region of Belgium were not reported.
Currently, the law clearly states that no one can kill another person. If euthanasia becomes legal, killing another person becomes acceptable under certain conditions – conditions that are changeable and dependent on the ethics of others. It would be very difficult to protect a vulnerable person under these circumstances.