Quebec Takes First Step to Legalize Euthanasia

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 29, 2013   |   5:55PM   |   Quebece City, Canada

The Quebec National Assembly voted today on Bill 52 (An Act respecting end-of-life care) that takes the Canadian province once step closer to legalizing euthanasia.

The vote comes as an opinion poll indicates most Quebec residents do not favor the bill’s provisions for “medical aid in dying.”

In an online survey of almost 500 residents conducted October 23-28 by Abingdon Research, 47% said Bill 52 requires further study, while another 14% expressed opposition. Only a minority – 35% – were in favour of the bill.

Natalie Sonnen, executive director of LifeCanada, said the poll also highlighted problems with the bill’s use of the vague term, “medical aid in dying.” Before being given the definition, only 30% answered correctly that “medical aid in dying” as proposed by Bill 52, involves “a doctor giving a patient a lethal injection.”

Sonnen said the widespread confusion created by ambiguous terms calls into question the reliability of previous polls citing strong support for this type of practice.

“Once people understand and think about the implications of ‘medical aid in dying’ they back away from supporting Bill 52,” she said.

Sonnen said when poll participants were informed that Bill 52 is based on a Belgian law, and that a study showed that one-third of Belgian patients given a lethal injection were killed without their consent, 83% of respondents expressed concern that this might happen in Quebec.

“This poll shows the Quebec population has not given its informed consent to ‘medical aid in dying’,” said Ms. Sonnen. “Contrary to what may have been assumed, the people have not given the government a mandate to proceed with such a monumental change in medical practice. The representatives of the people should reconsider before they take this step.”

The National Assembly’s Committee on Health and Social Services recently held public hearings on Bill 52. LifeCanada was one of seven organizations whose application to appear before the hearings was refused.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal,the number of deaths by assisted suicide has grown by 381% between 1998 and 2012. Prescriptions for a poisonous cocktail to kill patients have grown by 379%.

Alex Schadenberg, director of  Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, has written about problems with the law in Belgium.

A study that was published in the (CMAJ June, 2010) concluded that 32% of euthanasia deaths in the Flemish region of Belgium are done without explicit request. A similar study that was published in the (CMAJ June, 2010) concluded that 45% of euthanasia deaths involving nurses in Belgium were done without explicit request.

Many people claim that the Belgian euthanasia law is controlled and yet the data indicates that many euthanasia deaths are never reported.

The Belgian euthanasia law specifically limits the act of euthanasia to physicians. The study that was published in the (CMAJ June, 2010) found that when nurses were involved with the euthanasia death the lethal dose was injected by the nurse 12% of the time. The study indicated that in 12 cases the doctor was not present at the time of injection and twice, the nurse did not consult the physician. All of these acts are technically illegal in Belgium.

There has never been an attempted prosecution for abuses of the Belgian euthanasia law.

Under-reporting of euthanasia.

A study that was published in the (BMJ Oct 2010) concluded that euthanasia deaths are significantly under-reported in the Flemish region of Belgium. The study found that only 52.8% of euthanasia deaths in the Flemish region of Belgium were reported.

Belgian government statistics indicate that the number of reported assisted deaths increased by 25% from 1133 in 2011 to 1432 in 2012, representing 2% of all deaths in Belgium. The number of reported assisted deaths in 2010 was 954. It is important to note that these statistics do not include the unreported assisted deaths.

Data indicates that euthanasia is under-reported and done without request. This proves that the actual practice of euthanasia is not accurately represented in the Belgium government reports.

Euthanasia requests are rarely refused.

A study that was published in November 2011 found that only 5% of euthanasia deaths are refused in Belgium, compared to a 12% refusal rate in the Netherlands. The study stated that: “Unfortunately we have no information on the reasons why the attending physicians from our study refused to grant requests.”