An issue that will likely come up in the U.S. health care reform debate has already raised its ugly head for our neighbors to the north.
The question, which has been partially reviewed in some progressive states, pertains to end of life care and personal freedoms. Specifically, is it legal for an individual to request medical assistance to die?
The topic is under investigation as a new report from Quebec that recommends medical assistance to die is expected to reignite the debate over euthanasia in Canada, say editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The Dying with Dignity commission of the Quebec National Assembly recently issued its report after two years of public and expert consultation and research.
Advocates of this approach argue that medically assisted death is a patient’s right. It should therefore be considered as an end-of-life care option rather than a criminal act.
“Many physicians and patients will find this a shocking prospect to consider,” write Drs. Ken Flegel, Senior Associate Editor, CMAJ, and John Fletcher, CMAJ Editor-in-Chief. “Frail, dependent patients often feel a burden to their families or caregivers, and the unspoken possibility of a quick resolution to their predicament may complicate an already stressful situation,” they write.
Experts say that if Quebec decides to adopt the recommendations, legal safeguards must be built in to protect health care workers and patients from potential abuses once the changes are made.
Public consultation in Quebec as well as national discussion and involvement of federal lawmakers are needed if changes are to be made to the criminal code.
“The ethics of euthanasia are a familiar debate in Canada; one that may have been theoretical, until recently, because of the tacit assumption that doctors do not kill people. In Quebec, the debate is moving from theory toward practice. Which way will legislation go? Will the rest of Canada follow? Those who care about the answers to these questions must speak up now, and with conviction,” concluded the authors.