Redefining the Practice of Medicine - Winks and Nods and Euthanasia in Quebec: Part 3

Sean T. Murphy

Protection of Conscience Project

June 27, 2013

“Medical aid in dying” in Bill 52 (An Act respecting end-of-life care) will be transformed into euthanasia using the structures and powers established by other Quebec statutes governing the delivery of health care. These laws have established a multi-layered and overlapping bureaucracy. If Bill 52 passes, health care providers and others who want no part of euthanasia will find their working environments increasingly controlled by a MAD matrix functioning within this system.

The Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection may issue “policy directions” about euthanasia. Health care in every region in Quebec is delivered under the direction of a regional health and social service agency. In addition, local health and social services networks have been established. These will be expected to provide or facilitate euthanasia.

Almost all local community service centres, hospital centres or residential and long-term care centres will be required to offer euthanasia, as will rehabilitation centres, which serve developmentally disabled patients. Palliative care hospices and hospitals are not required to do so. Physicians associated with private health care facilities must not provide euthanasia unless authorized by a local health authority.

Policies, standards, codes of ethics, protocols, guidelines, directives, etc. can be used to normalize euthanasia, and disciplinary and complaints procedures can be used to force participation in it. Local complaints commissioners, the Health and Social Services Ombudsman and syndics (investigators) for professional orders could create considerable difficulty for objecting physicians.

Under Quebec’s Professional Code, the Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and other groups that oppose euthanasia might face substantial fines if they persist in encouraging or advising physicians not to participate in the procedure.

Physicians may refuse to provide euthanasia if the patient is legally ineligible, and for other reasons, including conscientious objection. Section 30 of the bill should be amended to avoid unnecessary conflict with objecting physicians. Section 44, the provision specific to conscientious objection, is inadequate. Further, patients may lodge complaints against physicians who refuse to provide or facilitate euthanasia with institutions and the regulatory authority, regardless of the reasons for refusal.

Despite the promise of immunity, some Quebec physicians may be unwilling to provide euthanasia while the criminal law stands, even if they do not object to the procedure. Similar reluctance might arise in regional health agencies, councils of physicians or other entities responsible for issuing MAD guidelines. Some might deliberately and obstinately interpret “medical aid in dying” to exclude killing patients, on the ground that the Act does not explicitly require or permit euthanasia, and the criminal law precludes such an interpretation.

Finally, objecting physicians might be able to appeal to the Public Protector, who is empowered to intervene “whenever he has reasonable cause to believe that a person or group of persons has suffered or may very likely suffer prejudice as the result of an act or omission of a public body.”

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: euthanasia, Quebec, freedom of conscience, conscientious objection, medical ethics

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Date posted: June 28, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Sean T., Redefining the Practice of Medicine - Winks and Nods and Euthanasia in Quebec: Part 3 (June 27, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2286360 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2286360

Contact Information

Sean T. Murphy (Contact Author)
Protection of Conscience Project ( email )
7120 Tofino St.
Powell River, Ontario V8A 1G3
604-485-9765 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.consciencelaws.org
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