OTTAWA (CCN) — The ink was barely dry on on Canada’s assisted suicide and euthanasia bill when euthanasia opponents had to fight against new challenges to expand the law’s reach.
In British Columbia, a 25-year-old woman from Chilliwack is challenging the new law’s eligibility requirement, restricting euthanasia or assisted suicide to those whose death is reasonably foreseeable. Julia Lamb has a degenerative muscle disease but is not near end of life. The BC Civil Liberties Association is supporting her court challenge.
In Quebec, where euthanasia has been legal since last December, the palliative care unit of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) came under pressure from Quebec politicians to rescind its policy to transfer patients out of its palliative care unit rather than kill them there.
Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller responded to both these news reports with an open letter July 4 warning the assisted suicide law is “already weakening respect for life.”
“Across Canada, some provincial governments and medical regulators are trying to compel participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide by doctors and other health care workers,” Miller said. “Can anyone doubt that before long what few protections exist will be history, just as Canada’s previous law against assisted suicide is history?”
In Quebec, the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia pushed back against the pressure applied by politicians from both the ruling Liberals and the Opposition Parti Quebecois on MUHC.
In an open letter July 4, the Alliance took aim at Parti Quebecois leadership candidate Veronique Hivon, who introduced Bill 52 when her party was in power, and co-sponsored it when the Liberals re-introduced it at the same stage of debate when they took power in 2014. Hivon has charged the MUHC decision was “ideological,” and has insisted the centre must respect the rights of patients at end of life who wished to have an assisted death without being transferred.
“We support the freedom of palliative care professionals at the MUHC (and in any hospital) to maintain safe spaces for patients,” the Alliance said in a release signed by 50 physicians in a range of disciplines.
It pointed out it is Hivon’s ideology that makes her “want to force hospitals to kill not only the patients, but to kill them where they especially need to be protected.”
The Alliance asked Hivon where she was when MUHC reduced the number of palliative care beds for budgetary reasons. It also asked why she only objects to transfers for euthanasia requests when patients are transferred all the time in Quebec for trivial reasons.
“The law says every hospital has to euthanize patients if they meet the criteria,” said Alliance president Dr. Catherine Ferrier in an interview. “But it doesn’t say where they have to do it.”
Both Hivon and the present Health Minister Gaetan Barrette are saying “this policy is against the spirit of the law,” she said. But Ferrier, a family doctor, said requiring palliative care units to kill patients “is contrary to everything palliative care stands for.”
“Very few palliative care doctors agree with the euthanasia law,” Ferrier said. “There are a couple in Quebec City and that’s why the numbers there are so high. In most places they are almost unanimously against it.”
Ferrier pointed out the MUHC was already in the process of changing its policy because there was a case of a patient last April who insisted on being euthanized. The transfer was impeded by a lack of beds in other parts of the hospital, Ferrier said.
At stake are not only the conscientious rights of doctors and of institutions but also those of the other patients in the palliative care unit, she said.
“Why is she focusing on this?” she asked. “She is trying to come across as a patient advocate, but it’s only when it’s about death.”
Miller called for a redoubling of efforts to help those “who feel that suicide is the answer to their suffering.”
“We must call on our governments and on the medical community to provide better and more accessible palliative care, and on all Canadians to alleviate the loneliness of those who feel isolated and abandoned,” he said.