A parliamentary committee in Quebec has recommended the legalisation of euthanasia with strict safeguards. Its report, “Mourir dans la dignité” (Dying With Dignity), contends that dying is a part of life and since medical assistance is used to prolong life, it should also be used in extreme cases to end it.

The report is available only in French at the moment. An English version will be published in May.

Instead of framing the proposal as a human right, the committee has described euthanasia as an advanced stage of palliative care. “This approach abandons the debate over the legalization of euthanasia to situate it in terms of appropriate end-of-life care,” said Véronique Hivon, the co-chair of the committee.

The report acknowledges that there could be constitutional snags. Euthanasia is illegal in Canada’s federal law. If the Quebec parliament legalises it, it would still be a crime in the other provinces. However, in Canada’s federal system, the provinces are responsible for the administration of justice. The committee has simply recommended that doctors be shielded from prosecution. This worked in the 1970s when Quebec stopped prosecuting doctors who did abortions.

The committee believes that euthanasia would be rigorously regulated and monitored. Minors would be banned and only an enlightened and well-informed people would be allowed to request medical assistance to die. They would have to have a serious and incurable disease with no hope of improvement.

The report has sparked a lively debate. Jocelyn Downie, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University, said that “Quebec has shown extraordinary leadership in this area.” The lobby group Living with Dignity, however, described it as a “profound act of political betrayal”. ~ Globe and Mail, March 23

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.