Quebec’s cardinal has expressed dismay at a newly passed “dying with dignity” law that brings Belgium-style euthanasia to the province.
The new law, Bill 52, passed by a 94-22 vote. It outlines the conditions under which terminally ill people can request medical aid in dying.
It treats euthanasia as health care, which falls under provincial jurisdiction, while the criminal code, which lists the practice as culpable homicide, is under federal jurisdiction.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay has not indicated what action, if any, the federal government will take.
Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec expressed disappointment in the bill’s passage on his Facebook page.
“I hoped until the last moment that our members [would] not vote in favour of this bill, which introduced euthanasia with all its consequences. I am very disappointed,” the post said.
“Now, we will have to work with even more zeal to accompany the people at the end of life so that they do not have to request euthanasia,” the post added.
In a speech at a vigil outside the National Assembly on the eve of the vote, Cardinal Lacroix said there was no consensus on euthanasia, contrary to what governmental officials had been saying. He also noted the sense of disquiet, especially among older Quebeckers.
The Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia and the Montreal-based Living with Dignity vowed to challenge the law in court on constitutional grounds.
“With few exceptions, our elected officials have also chosen to ignore that Quebec does not have jurisdiction to decriminalise euthanasia,” Living with Dignity said in a statement. “Kill a patient, even at his request, not a care; this is a homicide prohibited by the criminal code.”
“This is a serious betrayal of the sick and the dying, as the killing of a patient who is dying is not a treatment, but a homicide,” said the physicians’ group said in a separate statement.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said his organization would support any legal challenge to the law.
“Let’s be clear, Bill 52 gives Quebec physicians the right to intentionally and directly cause the death of persons by lethal injection,” Mr Schadenberg wrote on his blog. “This represents an act of homicide and not an act of ‘end of life care.’”
He described the law as “imprecise, open to abuse and based on the Belgian euthanasia law”.
“In Belgium, euthanasia is being done to people who are not terminally ill but living with depression; euthanasia has been extended to children and studies have proven that euthanasia is often done to people without request,” he said.
Palomar Aguilar, MacKay’s spokeswoman, said that the government believes “the criminal code provisions prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society. The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation 20 years ago in the Rodriguez decision.”
In the case Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman, sought to have a legal right to assisted suicide after being diagnosed in 1991 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She took her cause to the Supreme Court of Canada, but lost in a 5-4 vote. In 1994, she took her own life with the help of an anonymous physician. Assisted suicide remains punishable with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison under the criminal code.
Ms Aguilar also noted that the Canadian Parliament voted in April 2010 by “a large majority” not to change the laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, “which is an expression of democratic will on this topic”.