December marks the first anniversary of Québec’s euthanasia program, and serious questions about compliance with the law are already emerging.
Thus far, the Commission on end-of-life care has provided two reports, one at the six-month mark, and one at nine month mark.
The Québec euthanasia commission report that was filed on August 31 stated that 262 euthanasia were reported by doctors in Québec, and 263 continuous palliative sedations were reported by institutions as of June 30.
The number of completed euthanasia’s were more than three times higher than the original estimate given by Québec’s health minister, Gaetan Barrette, who believed there would be about 100 euthanasia deaths in the first year.
The reports from the Commission consist of information from institutions (for the first six months), as well as the forms filled out by doctors each time they perform euthanasia (over nine months). At the six month mark, the institutional data showed 167 euthanasia as of June 9. However as of June 30 only 161 doctors’ forms had been filed. This discrepancy leads us to question whether doctors are reporting every instance of euthanasia.
As of August 31, the Commission was already behind in reviewing and ruling on doctors’ reports of euthanasia. According to the nine-month totals, only 198 of the 262 euthanasia records had been examined. Of those, only 148 had been evaluated for compliance with the law.
Of the 21 cases in which the commission found a failure to comply with the law, 18 failed because the second doctor was not independent of the first physician. Health Minister Barrette stated in media interviews that he is considering making some adjustments to simplify the paperwork and ease the obligation of seeking a second opinion from an objective and independent doctor.
Of the remaining three cases, the Commission found that two of the people were not at the “end of life” as defined by the law. In the other instance, the Commission ruled the person did not have a “serious and incurable illness.”
The 21 cases that did not conform to the law represent 14.2% of 148, while the three found with eligibility violations represent a 2% error rate.
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The report includes no information about the underlying cause of the request, the nature of the “intolerable suffering” or any demographic information about the people making the request, or the doctors granting them.
This report raises many questions. First, is the commission equipped to examine and rule on the number of euthanasia cases it will face if it already had a backlog before the end of the first year?
Second, how do we know that doctors are actually reporting all euthanasia deaths? This is a chronic and serious problem in Belgium; who’s to say it won’t become a problem in Canada?
Third, if the government’s response to the 14% error rate is to remove the requirement that the second doctor be independent, how will it respond to the 2% of cases where errors of eligibility occurred? What penalties will those doctors face who do not comply with the eligibility requirements? Who will enforce the law?
Fourth, the information furnished in the report is not comprehensive enough to enable the reader to know if those who received euthanasia were eligible, and if all safeguards were followed. Without detailed information, researchers will not be able to study the demographics and reasons people request euthanasia, to understand the public policy impact of this law.
LifeNews Note: Amy Hasbrouck is the president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition