No consensus at Quebec euthanasia hearings
Published Tuesday, September 7, 2010 6:54PM EDT
Legal and medical experts, as well as members of the public, debated the merits and drawbacks of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Montreal Tuesday, as public hearings on the topic of dying with dignity got underway in Quebec.
A committee of elected officials in Quebec is reviewing medical practices on euthanasia and end-of-life care.
Committee head and Quebec Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley said a consensus over the issue is unlikely given the diversity of opinions that committee members heard in just the first day of hearings.
"We're listening," Kelley said during a break in Tuesday's hearing. "We saw this morning already that there's a great divergence of opinion. I can assure you that (as) we go forward, we won't get any clearer."
Earlier Tuesday, Kelley said it's been 17 years since B.C.'s Sue Rodriguez brought the issues of mercy killing to the fore, when she fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to kill herself. And though the court eventually ruled against her, the debate has never gone away, he said.
"It's a debate Canadians have seen before… but the feeling in Quebec is that we're ripe to have this discussion," he told CTV's Canada AM from Montreal.
Kelley said it was the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons that invited his committee to review euthanasia and end-of-life care.
"With advances in medical technology and with using medications, the conditions of end of life contain grey zones that doctors have identified. They'd like to have some clear indication of what is and what isn't permitted," he explained.
The committee has already heard from 32 legal and medical experts on the issues and it is now be the public's turn to join the discussion.
Some 300 written and oral submissions from the public are expected, while another 3,300 citizens have filled out an online questionnaire.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in Canada; these hearings won't change that. But the debate about what is legal – and what is right – has been revived in recent years, with organizations representing doctors calling for changes to rules governing euthanasia.
Some doctors note that euthanasia already happens all the time, with medical professionals quietly hastening death through many means, such as increasing dosages of narcotics.
Others want to discuss assisted suicide, which is somewhat different and is defined as having someone counsel or help someone who has decided to end his or her own life. Still others want to discuss palliative care and the conditions at end of life.
"We want to make some things more clear and answer some of the questions that people who are pushing for change have raised," said Kelley.
The two sides of the euthanasia and assisted suicide debates include people who are concerned that opening the door to the practices will endanger society's most vulnerable people, such as those suffering from dementia or who are physically handicapped.
"In a family where they feel this is hard, the burden or whatever, they could take a decision for that person with dementia, and we don't want to go there," Linda Couture of the organization Living with Dignity told CTV Montreal.
Dr. Andre Bourque, chief of the department of general medicine at the Centre hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal, said Tuesday he does not have a problem with a patient choosing to cease treatment. But lethal injection, he said, is wrong.
"It's direct killing of a human being, and there's no need for this and it's dangerous," Bourque told reporters.
On the other side of the debate are those who say everyone should have the right to decide how their own life ends.
Nicole Gladu, who suffers from post-polio syndrome and whose condition is deteriorating, said outside the hearing she applauds MPs for being "courageous enough to face reality."
"I think I should be authorized to put an end to my life when I decide this is the best thing for me," Gladu told CTV Montreal. "And it's impossible."
The Select Committee on Dying with Dignity will visit 11 communities across Quebec, starting in Montreal.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Maya Johnson