The World Federation for the Right to Die Societies and the Association pour le Droit de Mourrir Dignement (France’s Association for the Right to Die with Dignity) co-sponsored an international conference, which took place in Paris, Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. The gathering takes place every two years and the last one was held in Toronto in 2006.

A total of 120 representatives of the euthanasia and assisted suicide lobby gathered at the conference, the theme of which was, “Towards a global recognition of our final freedom?” People came from Belgium, Colombia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the U.S., Canada and other countries to discuss the next steps in the battle for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Representatives of Dying with Dignity Canada, and of the Association Quebecoise pour le Droit de Mourrir Dignement (Association for the Right to Die with Dignity of Quebec), attended.

Canadian MP Francine Lalonde (Bloc, La Pointe- de l’Ile) took the podium during the plenary session. For the last three years, she has been lobbying and proposing changes to the Criminal Code to permit physician-assisted suicide. Reading excerpts from the speech she gave in front of the House of Commons when she introduced Bill C-407, Lalonde went on to discuss the case of Sue Rodriguez and the impact it had on the debate in Canada.

Last spring, Lalonde introduced Bill C-562, but it did not make it to first reading because the election was called in September. She spoke of the current political climate and pointed out that her party had unanimously endorsed her project. She intends to reintroduce her private member’s bill when Parliament reconvenes and will seek bipartisan support.

Lalonde, who recently won her sixth consecutive mandate, this time by a margin of over 20,000 votes, battled cancer last year. She concluded her presentation by saying: “When I first introduced the bill in 2005, I had yet to live through situations where I needed to understand this battle. I know now, intellectually and personally, about the necessity of a law that would make euthanasia and assisted-suicide legal.”

Members of the World Federation for the Right to Die Societies explained that they need to “train doctors” in assisted suicide. Participants from other countries stated the focus had to be moved away from people who have incurable illnesses and chronic pain, so that any person who feels she is suffering from a loss of dignity can request active aid in dying. This led to a discussion surrounding “ill-born children,” handicapped people and the elderly. Most speakers denied that legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide can lead down a slippery slope that endangers the must vulnerable in our society and they did not explore any alternative approaches to help people who may suffer from a lack of access to certain services or from loneliness.

Rather, the group emphasized that opposition comes largely from religious groups. Lalonde was no exception, saying that “the religion of some should not become the law of others.”

Debate, rather, focused on the best way to advance their cause, either through activism (helping people to die or providing information on the best way to commit suicide) or through lobbying and court action (legislative and legal change). Speakers claimed that support for euthanasia is increasing around the globe.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told The Interim that Lalonde will re-introduce a bill in early 2009 “to bring in European-style euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.”

He said the pro-euthanasia movement has largely moved beyond terminal and chronic illness, suffering and pain, and instead promotes a “concept that someone should be allowed to have their life ended by another person when they are tired of living.”