- Published on Monday, 28 September 2009 01:57
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 4067
With Canadian Parliament resuming in September after its summer recess, most people will be looking to see if the minority Government will be brought down and we'll be having another election. If this happens, all opposition parties will have to support it including the Bloc Quebecois whose members represent the Province of Quebec. One of these M.P.s, Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l'Île), has sponsored Bill C-384: An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Right to die with dignity). That's right, a representative of the French, mostly Catholic province of Quebec has proposed an assisted suicide bill. This is the fourth time she's proposed such a bill and she's doing so as a Private member which means it's unlikely to get passed. But it has got past first reading for the first time and will be presented for second reading in the fall.
Ms. Lalonde, who has battled cancer for the past two years, said she was only diagnosed after she introduced the bill in 2005. She said before her diagnosis, pain was a theoretical issue. But after what she experienced while she was ill, "pain was no longer theoretical" and so seeing a bill like this passed meant even more.
She is not overly optimistic that will happen. It is a question, she said, of whether parliamentarians have "the guts or courage" to reflect what appears to be the popular will.
Ms. Lalonde believes that such a law would be "reasonable," not a slippery slope to irresponsible killing of the weak and defenceless, and would be a mark of a compassionate society that is willing to help end irreversible pain and suffering.
"Someone's religious or moral beliefs should not become my law," Ms. Lalonde said.
It's quite common in Canada as in other western countries for drugs to be given to dying people to assist the transition - sometimes life support systems are removed before the person is actually dead because it's the humane thing to do. This is sometimes called non-active euthanasia. So this bill just moves the bar somewhat.
The bill basically says that for people over 18, in severe pain and/or in a terminal illness who twice make a written request to die, a physician may assist although is required to get a second opinion.
Dr. Jeff Blackmer who runs the Canadian Medical Association's office of ethics, comments: "So what's the difference between letting someone die and giving them drugs to make it easier and giving them drugs [to kill pain] that will kill them?" he asked. "Some may argue it's splitting hairs, but for a physician it's a critical difference in that in the former case it's the underlying disease that is causing death - we're letting nature run its course. The second situation [of giving lethal drugs] is more active, and it's opposed to what doctors are supposed to stand for."
But to me it's clear that the real underlying reason for resistance to the idea (let alone a new law) is the belief of many that human life is somehow sacred and not even the "owner" has any right to decide it's time to end it. This is of course certainly NOT the belief of atheists who see no reason to suffer when it's time to die.
It's ironic that this bill should be proposed by a Quebecer who was almost certainly raised as a Catholic but this debate is indicative of the change in Canada's society and thinking. Other countries who have passed such a law are in the forefront of social thinking - the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland - and there has been active debate in England, Australia, the U.S., Canada and probably other countries. This site has lot of info on the subject.
Although I doubt that this bill will get passed, I hope that the subject will get a wider hearing than previously.
Update April 22, 2010
Francine Lalonde's Bill was killed by a vote at second reading. The vote was 228 to 59. Most of the votes in favour were from Quebec. You can see the list of who voted on this page. Looks like Canadians don't trust doctors (or maybe themselves) or think that there is already enough leeway to allow dying with dignity.