Reprinted with permission from LifeCanada Journal, March, 2012.
Reading the pro-euthanasia recommendations of the Quebec National Assembly’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity, I was reminded of Martin Luther’s oft misunderstood proposal to “sin boldly.”1 Euthanasia is illegal in Canada. A more typically Canadian middle-of-the-road approach to changing the status quo might have been more “thin end of the wedge” style: first call for a little decriminalization, then see if the door opens wider. Not here.
If we’re going to use a wedge, the committee seems to say, thick end is fine. If we’re going to cross the Rubicon to kill the elderly, sick, and disabled, let’s do it with gusto! Sin boldly or not at all.
The committee’s report Dying with Dignity might have called for assisted suicide—a half-way measure between killing yourself (suicide) and having someone else kill you as in euthanasia. No half-way measure here: they want doctors allowed to kill their patients.2 “Medically assisted death,” they call it. At least they dress it up a bit.
The committee noted most Quebecers cannot access palliative care to relieve suffering at the end of life. It might have then said, “Let’s fix the access problem first, then see if there is any need for more drastic measures in ‘hard cases.’” But no, they contend. Providing top-notch palliative care will take time.3 Let’s start killing people now. Let’s make killing part of “a continuum of care.”4
The committee might have said, “The Criminal Code is federal; let’s recommend Ottawa decriminalize euthanasia.” But no, they seem to say. No need to wait. Let’s take matters into our own hands. The provinces get to prosecute that law. Let’s stop prosecuting euthanasia. Let’s draw up our own law with prosecutorial guidelines. And let’s ask the College of Physicians to change their rules to allow patient-killing.5
The do-not-prosecute approach could be called “the Dutch strategy.” Permissive euthanasia became widespread in Holland in the 1980s and 1990s, all while euthanasia technically was a crime. They started by changing the prosecutorial guidelines. Only in 2002, after society had gotten used to patient-killing, was it decriminalized. In this instance the committee hopes Ottawa will eventually follow an enlightened Quebec’s lead.
There are, however, a couple serious problems with the Dutch strategy. First, it invites consideration of the disturbing slippery-slope history of euthanasia in that country, in which guidelines were constantly expanded by the government, courts, or medical profession, so as to catch more and more categories of patients. The guidelines moved beyond assisted suicide for the terminally ill to voluntary euthanasia; then the chronically ill were added; then those suffering mentally;6 then children as young as 12 could demand it.7 Next may come the “tired of living.”8 Along the way non-voluntary euthanasia became common, not just for adults with Alzheimers etc. unable to decide for themselves, but also for disabled newborns through the Groningen Protocol.9
So when the Quebec report proposes patient guidelines—Quebec resident; age of majority; free and enlightened decision; grave and incurable illness; advanced decline in illness with no prospect of recovery; constant physical or psychological suffering judged to be “intolerable”—no one should expect such limits to be maintained.10 If adopted, they would balloon over time, just as in Holland. The committee claims euthanasia would only be practiced “in exceptional circumstances.” Quebecers should have no such illusion.
The guiding principle of this report, oozing from virtually every one of its 104 pages, is radical personal autonomy. You decide if your life is worth living. Or not. Well, if that’s the philosophy Quebecers are naive enough to embrace, the eventual result is no guess-work: euthanasia on demand. That is the train Quebec would be boarding. Meanwhile every MD would lose their autonomy: they would be duty-bound to refer patients for euthanasia.11
And the train would not stop there. As in Holland, non-voluntary euthanasia would ensue. The committee’s confessed dalliance with this prospect should unsettle.12
The Dutch strategy’s second big problem is jurisdictional. By adopting an elaborate legal scheme along the lines the report proposes in 12 of its 24 recommendations, Quebec would effectively decriminalize euthanasia. That would arguably usurp the federal government’s exclusive power over criminal law. As even the report acknowledges, the province’s constitutional duty is to “ensure the application of criminal law.”13 Not to make it or abrogate it. Would Ottawa allow Quebec to usurp its authority? That’s a very big question, with deep constitutional and political implications.
Why is this Quebec Select Committee so radically, zealously pro-death? As the report proudly boasts, it’s part of the progressive “evolution of social values” that has included the rejection of Quebec’s religious heritage, the acceptance of abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.14 All in the name of “personal autonomy.” The right to have a doctor kill you is only the next logical step. In a way they are right. Death of faith and morals begets death quite literally.
Heaven help Quebec. A new religion is afoot. And it’s deadly. No Canadian should be unmoved. For recent past precedent in “social values” has often been: as Quebec goes, so Canada goes.15 Perhaps we should all be on our knees.
1. His actual statement was, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” Letter to Melanchthon, 1521.
2. Assemblée Nationale du Québec, Commission Spéciale sur la Question de Mourir dans la Dignité, Rapport mars 2012, Recommendation 21.
3. Ibid., pp. 59–60.
4. Ibid., pp. 60–61.
5. Ibid., pp. 92–93 and Recommendation 21.
6. Herbert Hendin, MD, Seduced by Death (New York: Norton, 1998), p. 135.
7. “FAQ—Euthanasia in the Netherlands,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide 29 September 2010.
8. “Holland debates ‘tired of living’ euthanasia law,” Sydney Morning Herald 12 March 2010.
9. Hendin, ibid., 139–141; E. Verhagen and P. Sauer, “The Groningen Protocol—Euthanasia in Severely Ill Newborns,” New England Journal of Medicine 10 March 2005, 959–962.
10. Rapport, Recommendation 13.
11. Ibid., pp. 85 and Recommendation 21.
12. Ibid., pp. 93–95.
13. Ibid., p. 19.
14. Ibid., p. 48.
15. Since its Quiet Revolution in 1960 Quebec has often been at the vanguard of Canadian secularization and permissiveness with respect to such matters as abortion and same sex marriage.
Peter Ryan is LifeCanada’s board member from New Brunswick. He did post-graduate studies on euthanasia and authored LifeCanada’s 2010 submission to the Select Committee on Dying with Dignity. He invites everyone to join his Facebook group Option Life Quebec.