Euthanasia debate heats up in Quebec

A group of medical specialists speaks out against euthanasia ahead of a Quebec-wide consultation on the controversial practice.

A group of medical specialists is speaking out against euthanasia ahead of a Quebec-wide consultation on the controversial practice, warning that previous attempts at legislation elsewhere in the world have failed.

A provincial legislature committee is scheduled to travel to 11 Quebec cities in the fall to consult with the public on the polarizing practice, in which patients with terminal diseases request a doctor's help to die. 

What is the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide?

  • Euthanasia refers to the practice of ending a life in a manner which relieves pain and suffering. Assisted suicide is the deliberate hastening of death by a terminally ill patient, with assistance from another individual.

Quebec's Federation of Medical Specialists has already publicly supported government legislation on euthanasia for "exceptional circumstances," stating the practice already happens across the province.

But a handful of Montreal-based medical specialists cautions the government about regulation.

"I think that ultimately, we're going to go down a slippery slope, where eventually, what patients purport to want, which is autonomy of decision-making, will be lost," said Paola Diadori, a pediatric neurologist at the St-Justine Hospital.

"Patients need care. And we need to be responsible for providing the care that they need. I don't think that it's good medicine to have physicians end these people's lives.

"That's not caring for them. That's basically just getting rid of a person."

Dozens of people showed up at a meeting in St-Bruno on Wednesday night to talk about euthanasia with medical specialists opposed to the practice. ((CBC))
Diadori was among a group of specialists who gathered Wednesday night in St-Bruno, on Montreal's South Shore, for a public meeting.

Some doctors are concerned that the eventual legalization of euthanasia will ultimately sour relations between physicians and patients.

"What's going to happen is by euthanasia, we give doctors the power to kill," said José Morais, a geriatrics specialist. "I think there are consequences to that. Patients would start thinking, or questioning the intentions of their doctors."

Proper palliative care can be adequate for terminal patients, Morais added.

Doctors at the meetings are concerned the public is not properly informed about the practice, and are concerned people will support legislation without knowing all the facts.

"It could work for a while, but then it will be trivialized, and that is the slippery slope," warned Dr. Joseph Ayoub, a Montreal oncologist in palliative care. "We've seen that happen in Holland."

Committee hearings on euthanasia were held in early 2010 at the national assembly in Quebec City, resulting in a consultation document called "Dying with Dignity." The document will be used in public hearings this fall that that start Sept. 7. Liberal national assembly member Geoff Kelley is heading the commission.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Canada.