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Big News from Quebec on Abortion and Euthanasia
These issues, which deal with the value of human life from conception to natural death, were given prominence in the Quebec newspapers recently.

See Part Two of this series: Quebec: Abortion and Euthanasia.

Two issues of life were given prominence on the pages of Quebec newspapers last week.


First, Quebec’s law governing the operation of abortion clinics will change effective September 30.

It’s about time. I do not endorse abortion, but applaud the Government of Quebec’s decision to require abortion clinics to meet the same medical standards as any other surgical facility. It is a testament to the motivation of these clinics that three have advised they will close their doors rather than comply with the new law.

All three clinics, including Henry Morgentaler’s first clinic which opened in Montreal in 1969, promoted themselves as being open for business “for the sake of women’s health.” The Government of Quebec has given them the opportunity to meet a medical standard “for the sake of women’s health.” And, without effort or expenditure of a portion of the millions of dollars they have made over the decades of ending countless lives of the unborn, the clinic owners will walk away from their “principles.” The reason? They are unprepared to offer their services if forced to comply with general surgical standards – that is the performance of surgery in a sterile environment with basic sterile surgical equipment – and the financial cost associated with those standards.

The Government of Quebec has given [abortion clinics] the opportunity to meet a medical standard “for the sake of women’s health.”

Dr. Francine Léger of the Morgentaler Clinic is reported to have said this requirement is “a double standard.” Reports in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper indicate that neither the Quebec College of Physicians nor the U.S. based National Abortion Federation requires this “new” standard.

I’m fairly ignorant about the way the surgical procedure is performed but I do care about basic health requirements for human beings. Women undergoing a surgical procedure should be entitled to the same standard of care as men or women undergoing a different surgical procedure. Clearly, the government is not eliminating the performance of abortions in hospitals or properly equipped private clinics. It seems to me that the action of the Quebec government is not the establishment of a double standard but the elimination of one that has existed for far too long.

Of course, I would take pleasure in announcing the clinics have actually closed, no doubt with a resulting decrease in abortions and the damage, whether emotional or physical in its consequences, that so often accompanies the loss of that little developing life. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is grandstanding by the now wealthy owners of these clinics in an effort to test the reaction of the public, the resolve of the government or to seek government funding to upgrade their facilities.

We will soon know if 40 years after the opening of Canada’s first publicly advertised private (and at the time illegal) abortion clinic that same facility will close its doors, as a new age dawns on concern for women’s health. Hopefully this new age will be an age that includes fully informing women of the now verified high likelihood of emotional and physical consequences of having an abortion and the alternatives available. At a minimum, a woman will know if she chooses to proceed with an abortion that the procedure will take place in a proper surgical environment.

The second issue given newspaper coverage was a poll reflecting on the attitudes of Quebecers in regard to euthanasia.

An Angus Reid poll conducted August 4 and 5, 2009, reports that 31 percent of Quebec residents strongly support the idea of legalizing euthanasia. Another 46 percent moderately support the idea with 9 percent moderately opposed, 8 percent strongly opposed and 6 percent uncertain.

These poll results may seem like news, but in fact these types of numbers are quite common – until people are informed about the specifics of the application of proposed or existing laws pertaining to euthanasia or assisted suicide, including the experience in other countries. Inform people and ask them again. The results will be different.

People change their minds on this issue when informed there are effective ways of managing almost all pain. Death is not the preferred method. Others have not considered that the issue of euthanasia is not always left to be considered by the person who will die. Frequently the decision is in the hands of a caregiver.

In countries that have legalized euthanasia, the reasons given for the “mercy killing” are often: depression; a desire not to become a “burden” to others; not feeling worthy of care; or, the caregiver determines the individual’s life no longer has value. Most recently, some decisions have been based on economics – we need this bed for another patient.

The law proposed in Canada states that anyone over the age of eighteen years who is “suffering” (an undefined term) from a terminal illness or “severe” (also undefined) physical or emotional pain may request a “medical practitioner” (as defined by each province) assist them in dying with dignity. “Dying with dignity” is an interesting catchphrase, but the human response is to assist in eliminating pain and meeting the individual’s needs not assist in eliminating life and meeting the needs of a caregiver or the expense of operating a public hospital. Human life is not a burden.

My colleague, Faye Sonier, addressed this issue in a recent webitorial:

Consider the Netherlands, where the original criteria for euthanasia echoed those of Bill C-384; only terminally ill, suffering, competent adults who repeatedly requested and consented to death could seek voluntary euthanasia. Over 30 years later, none of those requirements remain. Increased occurrences of “involuntary suicide” – there’s an oxymoron, involuntary suicide – have been and continue to be recorded. Individuals have been killed in hospitals without their input. The laws and official guidelines of the nation have been watered down and modified by judicial interpretation to the point where no physical suffering or even illness need be demonstrated.

Opening the door to euthanasia creates an expectation rather than an opportunity for those who are (or may think they are) suffering. Opening the door to abortion certainly created changed expectations, even in regard to the standards of performing a surgical procedure.

Lest we forget, all human life is unique and to be highly valued – from conception to natural death, including standards for surgery.

Don Hutchinson is Vice-President, General Legal Counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life.



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