Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Euthanasia in Quebec?

Quebec legislators are reportedly within days of passing a law that would permit euthanasia for competent adult patients with incurable disease which causes constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering. The euthanasia-related portion of Bill 52 (an English-language copy of which can be download here) seem modeled on euthanasia laws in Europe, in that it requires a diagnosis of incurability rather than of terminality, and explicitly ties access to euthanasia to suffering. A person is eligible to receive a physician's aid in dying only if he or she "suffer[s] from an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and suffer[s] from constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain which cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable." The term "aid in dying" is not actually defined in the bill, presumably in order to leave methodology in the hands of physicians.

Euthanasia is illegal according to Canadian national law, and it's not clear that the Quebec provincial law's alternative reference to "aid in dying" will skirt that national prohibition. Parti Quebecois officials are reportedly thinking of simply asking Crown officials not to prosecute euthanasia within Quebec after the law passes.

The bill covers a great deal of ground in addition to the euthanasia innovation. It creates a provincial commission to gather information on end-of-life care, establishes a regime for the creation and registration of advance directives, and addresses the provision of hospice and palliative care.

The bill has attracted a fair bit of high-profile opposition from groups of physicians, from the Catholic Church, and from some bioethicists. Here's a piece on the slippery-slope argument ("Soon we'll be killing children and the demented, just like in Belgium") being advanced by prominent conservative Canadian bioethicist Margaret Somerville.

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