By Michael Cook
Quebec is on the verge of legalising euthanasia. Despite the crushing defeat of the Parti Quebecois in the recent election, the governing Liberal Party and the other three major parties have taken the unusual step of backing a quick vote on the bill in the new parliamentary term. The new Premier, Philippe Couillard, who is also a neurosurgeon, says that a vote on it will be the first order of business, probably in early June.
All parties have allowed their members a free (or conscience) vote on the controversial issue.
The politicians have had to perform some adroit legal legerdemain to allow Quebec doctors to administer lethal injections. Canada is a federation and the national criminal code bans euthanasia. For that reason, the backers of the bill, called “An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care”, are describing it as a health measure, which falls under the jurisdiction of the province, rather than a change in the criminal code, which is a federal responsibility. It uses the euphemism “medical aid in dying” instead of euthanasia.
The new health minister, Gaetan Barrette, another doctor, says that, “It’s a bill about end of life care that is part of a continuum that ranges from health care to medical aid in dying, but with a very particular focus on palliative care.” He was a strong supporter of euthanasia when he was the head of the Quebec association of medical specialists.
If the bill passes, it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.
“In all of the three countries where euthanasia has been legalized they didn’t do so by modifying the health laws, but by modifying the criminal law,” said Dr Catherine Ferrier, president of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia. “In Quebec, they are trying to get around the fact that it’s not under their jurisdiction. They are trying to make an end run around federal law.”
Editor’s note. This appeared at bioedge.org.