by Adam Giancola
Adam is in his second year of studies at the University of Toronto and an Executive member of the University of Toronto Students for Life. He is volunteering in NCLN ‘s Head Office as our Administrative Assistant.
A recent article in the Montreal Gazette has brought my attention back to one of main focuses that needs to be addressed in the ongoing debate across Quebec over euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. Time and again we find ourselves drawn only to the polemics of this debate, in which the status of those involved is often relegated to the back burner. I find myself, every now and then, having to remember that politics aside, when it comes to end-of-life issues, we are talking about human lives, and it is not enough to chant our chants and wave our signs unless we have considered the lives of those whom we are defending.
As the Quebec hearings begin to wrap up, I am forced to reflect on the goods they have provided Canadians with over these past few months. It has been, to say the least, informative having had the rare opportunity to really delve into the issue with our eyes open. I think both sides of this debate, at bare minimum, have grown to recognize the immense difficulties that end-of-life concerns face, and it is from this premise that we begin to assess the repercussions of a prospect like legal euthanasia.
Two participating associations in the Quebec hearings have recently raised concerns about this very prospect. Both organizations have the benefit of providing an internal perspective on this issue, yet what sets them apart is recognition that the difficulties that arise from a question like euthanasia cannot simply be resolved by instating a legal sanction that pays no attention to the fundamental question at hand: quality of life.
For example, “the Association quebecoise de gerontologie, which includes more than 300 health professionals, called instead for the expansion of palliative care services to provide comfort to the terminally ill. And the Association de spina-bifida et d’hydrocephalie du Quebec argued that a debate on euthanasia is premature, given that health services for the disabled are lacking everywhere.”
While the Quebec hearings have certainly done wonders in terms of promoting discussion, what it has failed to accomplish is the fact that concern over end-of-life issues begs a further discussion on the quality and consistency of health care (particularly palliative care) that is presently accessible to Canadians. Catherine Geoffroy, president of the association of gerontologists reminds us that, “only 10 per cent of Quebecers have access to palliative care at the end of their lives, and that many elderly die in nursing homes where there is little palliative care.” Furthermore, she explains, “that adequate palliative care can decrease the factors that lead a small proportion of people to demand an end to their lives… Palliative sedation, carried out in a strict medical manner, can respond to the concerns about dying in uncontrollable pain.”
Marc Picard is the president of the association that represents 9,000 people living with spina bifida and congenital hydrocephalus in Quebec. He argues that the government should “fulfil its obligations to provide basic psychological and health services to the population before talking about the possibility of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
While most advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia are often concerned with the enlargement of rights and the increased privatization of individual liberty, it is clear that we need to step back and think about the best ways to enlarge the health and good will of the lives that are at stake in this debate. As both Catherine Geoffroy and Marc Picard have asserted, changing a law that would give doctors the right to assist in the suicide of their patients is not only premature, but pays no attention to the actual needs of a patient.
As we look back on this unfolding drama that has for the first time in years, put the issue at the forefront of discussion, I cannot help but wonder whether this really has been the case. Ultimately what is required is a careful analysis of the needs of patients, and assisting in their deaths, simply for the sake of upholding their supposed ‘right’ does nothing to mediate the current underlying problems with Canadian healthcare. As Geoffroy herself articulates, “In a society where ageism is rampant, where the elderly are often held responsible for the difficulties in access to health care . . . how can we believe that consenting to euthanasia would be free of all societal pressures?”