Right to die debate takes centre stage in Quebec

“The euthanasia debate is one important battle … which will determine our future ‘shared’ societal values — or at least the values on which the majority of Canadians declare our Canadian society is founded,” said Ms. Somerville, director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University.

Mr. Kelley, who chairs the Quebec commission, stressed the members have not made up their mind yet on what changes should be proposed, if any, to address end-of-life care.

“We don’t know where the plane is going to land and as a pilot it makes you a bit nervous, but I think it’s up to the citizens now to take their turn,” he said, noting that popular interest for the hearings is unprecedented. Some 300 groups or individuals have requested to be heard.

The last time Canadians were drawn into a debate on assisted suicide, Mr. Kelley noted, was when Sue Rodriguez, a woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, fought to have the right to receive help to commit suicide in 1993. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against Ms. Rodriguez in a tight 5-4 decision and she took her life with the help of an anonymous physician.

There is a strong push in Quebec in favour of decriminalizing assisted suicide, notably by the Quebec College of Physicians, the province’s medical regulatory body, and the Federation of Medical Specialists. They are calling for guidelines for euthanasia in cases when a patient’s death is imminent and inevitable.

And according to a recent Leger Marketing poll, more than 70% of Quebecers agree with and are in favour of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Mr. Schafer is not surprised by the results.

“I think the debate is far more advanced in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, although there is a significant debate as well in British Columbia,” he said.

“I think the Quebecois are more in the tradition that each individual should be allowed, at least if they are competent adults, to make the important decisions for their own life,” added Mr. Schafer, an advocate of a more liberal law on end-of-life issues.

The commission is expected to table its report and recommendations sometime next spring.

© The National Post

Keywords: euthanasia, patient