It’s not often that Canadians salute Quebec for weaseling around federal laws it doesn’t like, but the province’s handling of the assisted suicide issue could actually win it some friends outside of its borders.
Spurred by advice from a legal panel, Quebec may table a bill in the next few months that legalizes assisted suicide for people suffering from an incurable or degenerative illness, says junior health minister Veronique Hivon.
Now, realizing that them’s fighting words as far as the feds are concerned – medically assisted death is illegal under the Canadian Criminal Code, which Ottawa enforces – the province is proposing this as an option under an expanded palliative care program; a purely medical issue that the panel notes, not so coincidentally, falls under provincial jurisdiction.
Clever, huh? (And yes, snide critics, you’re right — it should be clever, given all the practice Quebec has had in trying to undermine federal governments over the decades.)
It’s also well thought-out.
Medical assistance would be available only to adults suffering from an incurable or degenerative disease. They’d have to make the request themselves and get two doctors to certify it, to provide assurance of the mental capacity of the applicant. And they’d have to show that they weren’t able to endure the physical or psychological pain.
Those safeguards go a long way towards easing our qualms about a society that, technically, could sanction who lives and who dies.
They ensure that an impossible choice would at least be left in the hands of those who bear all the consequences: the terminally ill. If they wish to die with dignity, that should be their right. What the rest of us think about it is irrelevant.
Individual freedom grants us control over our bodies, and our life decisions, so long as we are competent and informed, and so long as we don’t interfere with the similar rights of others. Assisted suicide does not impinge on the rights of its opponents. It simply offends them.
It also leads to some uncomfortable scenarios, such as the one that unfolded this week in Belgium, one of three countries that permit euthanasia even for the non-terminally ill. Twin brothers who were born deaf and were going blind while suffering from an incurable illness, chose to end their lives at age 45, with the state’s help.
Critics of these deaths say the brothers could have lived on with their illness and disabilities. Perhaps they could have. But should the state have forced them to by denying them the end they sought? They simply did not have the will to continue to fight an endless battle with debilitating illness.
It is a scenario familiar to the many – and ever-increasing — victims of life-destroying illnesses in this aging country. And that’s why, uncomfortable or not, we need to talk about legalizing medically assisted suicide in Canada.
If Quebec has found a loophole that allows the conversation to translate into concrete action, then more power to la belle province. For once, it may have placed the interests of the nation first.