By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)—Euthanasia opponents and disability rights activists have expressed horror at the Sept. 11 Superior Court decision striking down key safeguards in Canada’s and Quebec’s euthanasia laws.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
“What it does is it takes away the one little protection that existed for people with psychiatric conditions. They could get it only if their natural death was reasonably foreseeable and it did prevent people with psychiatric conditions from dying with euthanasia.”
“It’s terrible news,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, president of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia. “I do geriatrics,” the Montreal-based family physician said. “All my people would be eligible.”
“It’s open season on the disabled,” said Ferrier. “Anyone disabled can now ask for euthanasia.”
Quebec Superior Court Judge Christine Baudouin struck down the federal law’s requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for euthanasia, as well as a similar clause in Quebec’s euthanasia law requiring the person be terminally ill in order to qualify.
Ruling the law infringed the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights,” the judge allowed Jean Truchon, 51 and Nicole Gladu, 73, to request to have a doctor end their lives. Neither are terminally ill but suffer from incurable and painful medical conditions. The judge also gave the federal and Quebec governments six months to amend their laws.
Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet (TVNDY), a project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, blasted the decision as a “discriminatory double standard that limits access to suicide prevention for people with disabilities.”
TVNDY said the court applied the “presumption of competence” to the plaintiff’s request for euthanasia, when the wish to die made by a non-disabled person is “proof of suicidality, if not incompetence.”
The court also failed to ask why the plaintiffs’ pain management was ineffective, nor did the court address the availability of good palliative care, TVNDY said. The organization also pointed out the lack of choices a disabled person faces in where and how they live.
“The judge’s description of the plaintiff’s situation invoked pity, but ignored the role of discriminatory public policy in depriving M. Truchon and Mme. Gladu of choice in where and how they live,” said TVNDY director Amy Hasbrouck in a news release. “The court erroneously blames M. Truchon’s lack of independence on his disability. But the fact is that he could live independently but for policies that favour institutional care over consumer-directed community-based services.”
“Better dead than disabled: that’s the message of this ruling,” said Ferrier.
“This is a country where disabled people don’t have the health care, housing, employment and transportation they need. We don’t offer them all of these other things that they need but we offer them death.”
Disabled people don’t see their lives as “totally unbearable” and “not worth living,” but “it’s hard to fight that if that’s how everyone else sees them,” Ferrier said.
Schadenberg pointed out the federal government had planned a five-year review by June of 2020. “What’s the purpose of a review if courts think it is their purview to strike down portions of the law?” he said.
Opening euthanasia up to those with psychiatric conditions alone was among the three areas under consideration, but now the court has effectively paved the way for this by removing the requirement death be reasonably foreseeable, Schadenberg said.
The safeguard requiring that those receiving euthanasia be 18 or older is probably the next one to fall to a constitutional challenge, he said. The third area under consideration is that of advance directives that would allow patients with a dementia diagnosis to request euthanasia once they are no longer competent.
On the same day as the Quebec decision, a Dutch court cleared a doctor of any wrongdoing in the euthanasia of dementia patient against her will three years ago. In this case, the family members had to hold the woman down so the doctor could administer the lethal dose.
Euthanasia for psychiatric reasons continues to grow in Belgium and the Netherlands, Schadenberg said.
Both Ferrier and Schadenberg have repeatedly warned against opening the door to euthanasia and assisted suicide at all.
“We knew this was going to happen,” said Ferrier. “The safeguards have been a bit of a joke from the beginning.”
Not only has the euthanasia lobby been pushing for euthanasia on demand, people in the Quebec government promised to “improve” the law once they had put it in place, she said.
Ferrier said she believes the safeguards were added, “otherwise they never would have got the law passed.”
“I have no doubt from the beginning this was the plan,” she said. “Get the law in place and then start removing the safeguards.”