Quebec Legislature grounds in Quebec City.

The Select Committee on Dying with Dignity Committee in Quebec released its report today recommending that Quebec ignore the federal law that protects all Canadians, by legalizing euthanasia according to the Belgian model. The report defies Parliament’s overwhelming defeat of a similar bill to legalize euthanasia by a margin of 228 to 59, after a full-debate and across party lines. The report does not adequately address concerns related to elder abuse, suicide prevention and vulnerability at the end of life, as addressed by the recent report by the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care in November 2011.

The Quebec report splits its recommendations between improving palliative care and informing the public about their rights and options related to end-of-life decision making; and legalizing euthanasia. The recommendations related to palliative care are positive, but in reality they are “window dressing” in the face of an immediate demand to legalize euthanasia.

The recommendations made to improve palliative care are similar to those made by previous parliamentary committees. Quebec has failed to implement those recommendations to date leaving many without adequate care at the end of life. Given current budget pressures in Quebec, there is no reason to believe that these recommendations will be implemented.

Legalizing euthanasia before first improving palliative and end-of-life care means that Quebecers cannot claim that euthanasia will be “freely chosen” because they are denied access to essential end-of-life care.

The Quebec committee claims to be responding to changes in social values in Quebec and yet they ignore the fact that the majority of the 271 briefs that were presented before the committee were opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The suggestion that measures such as those in place in the Netherlands or Belgium can protect vulnerable people from abuse is contradicted by the factual record:

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (May 2010) found that 32 per cent of the euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were done without request nor consent;

A study published in the British Medical Journal (October 2010) found that only 52.8 per cent of the euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were reported;

The five year study of euthanasia in the Netherlands that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (May 2007) found that there were 550 deaths without request or consent in the Netherlands in 2005 and approximately 20 per cent of all euthanasia deaths were not reported. The first report from the Netherlands (Remmelink Report in 1991) indicated that there were 1040 deaths without request or consent.

The Quebec committee ignored a study written by Orville Endicott for the Ontario Bar Association (“Law for Future Fund and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities” in 2003) determining that safeguards would not protect vulnerable people from euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The recommendations of the Quebec committee are contrary to the view and ethics of nearly every medical association in Canada and around the world. The report recommends a radical reformation of the doctor/patient relationship.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition supports improved palliative and end-of-life care. EPC opposes legalization of euthanasia, particularly when Quebecers and vulnerable Canadians lack proper access to essential end-of-life health care which deprives them of meaningful choice.

Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coaltion. This is adapted from a statement released by the EPC on March 22.