Furious debate is raging in Quebec as the controversial Bill 52 continues to be considered by the National Assembly. If the Bill is passed into law, it will legalize voluntary euthanasia, whereby a doctor administers the lethal dose to the patient. This is a significant move on from the current laws in Quebec, which allows palliative sedation (putting dying patients into a coma and removing feeding tubes) but not active euthanasia. This vital difference is just one of the many things that is causing arguments among the assembly, with pro-life lobbies calling the Bill “lethal”.
The main point of contention is the vague wording of the Bill, which allows doctors to intervene “at the end of life” but doesn’t define just what that means. In other countries euthanasia is only allowed in the last six months of a patient’s life – if they are given a terminal diagnosis of six months or less, they can request a fatal dose of medication. Bill 52 puts no such time limits on euthanasia and so is a legal minefield. One doctor argues that “the end of life” would make all geriatric patients eligible for assisted suicide – a fact that one of the pro-life websites play on, showing a picture of a healthy-looking woman in her 80s alongside the slogan “Bill 52 is lethal”.
But it is a huge logical leap to assume that the “end of life” clause will be abused in such a way. The Bill also stipulates that the patient must be experiencing “unbearable suffering”, so that death is the only escape available. The Bill was first tabled last June by Véronique Hivon, who said that it was intend to give people “autonomy and dignity” over their own death. There is a strong case for saying that you should be able to make decisions about the way you die with the same freedom as you make any other decision about your life. This Bill would effectively free terminally ill patients from a long and painful death and allow them to choose the time and place that they die.
This argument will never convince the pro-life lobby, however , who feel that the Bill threatens the sanctity of life as well as being “unconstitutional” and “imprecise”. They certainly have a point in the last instance – the numerous gray areas of Bill 52 make it difficult for anyone to justify it in its present state. For instance, it allows for psychological suffering as well as physical – but who is to judge what an unbearable level of psychological suffering is? It also stipulates that a person must be in an “advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”, which some argue could be applied to anyone with a disability. There is also alarm being raised after Belgian euthanasia laws – which strongly influence Bill 52 – have been changed to allow children under 18 to be euthanized. If Bill 52 passes, it’s difficult to predict where it will end.
But one thing isn’t difficult to predict – and that is that this Bill will continue to divide people forever, whether it becomes law or not. It’s a subject that brings out the strongest emotions on both sides and so the debate looks to continue. What do you think?
Until next time,
Peace, love and vitamin C!