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Letter: Decriminalizing euthanasia brings up ethical issues

By: Letter to the Editor

 | Jun 26, 2014 - 11:56 AM |
Re: Letter “Canada should decriminalize euthanasia,” which appeared in the June 17 edition of Northern Life.
Ashrraf’s letter mistakenly states that Quebec has decriminalized physician-assisted suicide. As the Criminal Code falls under federal jurisdiction, the Quebec legislature has no power to change it.

Because the Criminal Code provisions on assisted suicide remain unchanged and applicable even in Quebec, the actual effect of Quebec’s new law on the legal status of physician-assisted suicide in that province is unclear.

In passing this law, it appears that the Quebec government attempted to sidestep the constitutional limits on its powers, and so, unsurprisingly, a number of groups are already planning constitutional challenges to the legislation.

Ashrraf’s letter also gives the mistaken impression that the opposition to physician-assisted suicide comes only from religious groups. In reality, there are many secular groups who are opposed to this practice for various reasons.

For example, in Quebec alone, there is the Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia and the grassroots group Living with Dignity.

A central issue is the high likelihood of abuses and errors in determining consent, which is a task a lot more complex than most people realize.

There are, for example, serious concerns about whether or not someone who is in the type of unendurable suffering that physician-assisted suicide is meant to alleviate would even have the mental capacity to provide valid consent.

There is the danger that vulnerable persons could be pressured into consenting. It seems to me that mistakenly euthanizing someone is worse than disallowing euthanasia altogether.

Wouldn’t it be wiser to allocate the resources that would be spent trying to safeguard this practice to improve the quality and the availability of palliative care?

One final point: suicide was decriminalized not as an affirmation of a “right to die,” but simply to avoid putting individuals who have already gone through the trauma of a suicide attempt through an arrest and possible trial.

Jean Pierre Rank

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