Critics say a Quebec court decision that strikes down key safeguards in Canada’s euthanasia law points to an urgent need to provide opportunities and care for vulnerable and disabled people.
“Better dead than disabled — that’s the message of this ruling,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, president of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia.
“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.”
On Sept. 11, Quebec Superior Court Judge Christine Baudouin struck down the requirement in federal law that a person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for euthanasia. She also struck down a similar clause in Quebec’s euthanasia law that requires an illness be terminal.
Ruling that the federal law passed in 2016 infringed fundamental rights, the judge allowed requests by Jean Truchon, 51, and Nicole Gladu, 73, 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.
Euthanasia opponents and disability rights activists expressed horror at the ruling.
“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 Ferrier, a Montreal-based family physician. “All my people would be eligible.”
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,” she said.
“It’s open season on the disabled. Anyone disabled can now asked for euthanasia.”
Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet (TVNDY), a project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, called the decision a “discriminatory double standard that limits access to suicide prevention for people with disabilities.”
The double standard is that a healthy, non-disabled person who seeks death is regarded as suicidal and offered suicide-prevention care, whereas the Quebec court applied a “presumption of competence” to the plaintiffs’ request to die, according to a TVNDY statement.
The court also failed to ask why the plaintiffs’ pain management was ineffective or whether good palliative care was available, TVNDY said.
Schadenberg said the federal government had planned a five-year review of its euthanasia laws 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 up euthanasia to those with psychiatric conditions was among three areas to be reviewed, but the court has effectively paved the way for this by removing the requirement death be reasonably foreseeable, Schadenberg said.
The safeguard restricting medically-induced death to people 18 or older will probably also fail a constitutional challenge, he said. The third safeguard to be reviewed is that of advance directives, which currently prevent patients with a dementia diagnosis from pre-arranging for euthanasia to be executed when they become no longer competent.