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Quebec Becomes the First Province to Legalize Euthanasia

The Quebec National Assembly voted in June 2014 to legalize euthanasia. Called “medical aid in dying,” euthanasia will be treated in the province as a form of health care and doctors will be allowed to lethally inject patients who are at the end of life and experiencing physical or psychological suffering.

The legislation will require all hospitals and health institutions to develop policies providing medical aid in dying upon the request of any adult with a Quebec health card.

Not only does the legislation permit government-sponsored euthanasia, it seeks to blur the bright line between euthanasia and palliative care. It will threaten the conscience rights of medical professionals who, for religious or other reasons, oppose euthanasia.

Euthanasia is considered a form of homicide in Canada’s criminal code. Provinces have the right to legislate on matters of health care and where their laws address matters of federal jurisdiction, then the federal law, in this case the Criminal Code, prevails.

However, Quebec could instruct its provincial crown attorneys not to prosecute in which case either the federal government would ask federal crown attorneys to prosecute, or it could challenge the legislation in the Courts or through a constitution reference asking the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether the legislation is constitutional.

In response to Bill 52’s introduction, then federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said: “The laws that prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are potentially the most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly, and people with disabilities.”

The EFC believes that every human life is endowed with dignity and worth by our Creator. Christians, and other religious communities, hold that life has value at all stages. Terminal illness does not strip a person of his or her inherent worth, nor does physical or mental disability. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are rejected based on sacred texts and developed theologies on moral grounds as the premature cessation of a life of inestimable worth.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in Rodriguez v. British Columbia, recognized that Canadian society is “based upon respect for the intrinsic value of human life and on the inherent dignity of every human being.” Mr. Justice Sopinka in that case referred to the sanctity of life as being one of the three Charter values protected in section 7 of the Charter. Every human life has intrinsic value and inherent dignity.

Religiously informed and non-religiously informed viewpoints reason to the same conclusion: euthanasia must be seen for what it is, the intentional killing of another human being. If we begin to prize human autonomy over the value of human life, we will shift from a culture of life to a culture of death, and our most vulnerable citizens will be subject to the greatest risk.

For complete analysis of the legislation, see the EFC report Quebec’s Bill 52: Euphemisms for Euthanasia (and related EFC news release, Oct. 7, 2013).

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Issue: Euthanasia

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