Quebec a step closer to decriminalizing euthanasia

Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection Véronique Hivon concerning the filing of the report "Dying with Dignity" Ménard committee, Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Quebec City.



MONTREAL -- Quebec says it has received "with great interest" a report endorsing euthanasia while critics warn that the practice puts vulnerable people's lives at risk.

A three-member committee presented a lengthy report Tuesday to PQ minister Veronique Hivon, whose government plans to table a bill on the issue of "dying with dignity."

Report co-author Jean-Pierre Menard told a news conference Tuesday that Quebec adults of sound mind should have the right to seek a doctor's help to die if they have a terminal illness.

"Medically-aided death is part of the continuum of care," he said, adding that doctors who take part in the act should not be criminally charged.

Hivon, who received the report, is in charge of the dying with dignity portfolio in Premier Pauline Marois' cabinet, and has previously said that "medical aid to die is more of an evolution than a revolution."

Section 241 of the Criminal Code says anyone who "aids or abets a person to commit suicide" can be sentenced to 14 years in prison, "whether suicide ensues or not."

The euthanasia committee suggests Quebec can circumvent the ban by passing its own law and then directing provincial Crown lawyers not to prosecute euthanasia cases.

Canada's laws are in stark contrast to European countries such as Belgium, one of the few places where euthanasia is legal.

Twin Belgian brothers, unable to cope with being deaf and blind, made headlines this week after doctors legally killed them by lethal injection.

Quebec City euthanasia advocate Yvon Bureau says that the Belgian case is an "exception of exceptions" and that the European country has "excellent end-of-life care and palliative care."

But McGill ethicist Dr. Margaret Somerville says Belgium's system is rife with abuses.

A study last year suggested nearly one-third of all assisted suicides in Belgium were done "without an explicit request."

Somerville says decriminalizing euthanasia in Canada would turn some doctors into "legalized executioners."

"One reason why you have to have doctors not killing is because they've got more opportunities to do so than anyone else and it can be abused," she said.

Derek Miedema, a researcher with the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, says Quebec's proposed move would encourage those who think elderly and disabled people "are better off dead."

"Abuses are an overarching concern of ours because people can be pressured into (euthanasia)," he said.

"The rights of one individual cannot outweigh the rights of thousands more who would be left vulnerable."

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