MONTREAL — In a move certain to be controversial, Quebec College of Physicians has taken a formal position endorsing euthanasia "in certain exceptional situations."
"There do exist certain exceptional situations where euthanasia could be considered by the patient and their physician to be an ultimate and necessary step in assuring the patient receives appropriate and quality care to the very end," said Dr Yves Lamontagne, president of the College.
By formally announcing its policy on the matter, the College is also thrusting an inherently thorny issue back into the spotlight. And not without purpose, Lamontagne said, since the college hopes a legislative framework will develop to reflect current realities.
Euthanasia is currently illegal in Canada.
Terminally ill patients, for instance, are often given increasing levels of painkillers, such as morphine, to alleviate their suffering.
Sometimes, the dosage given can itself be fatal, which is a form of euthanasia, the College argues.
But this is a "gray area," explained the College’s secretary, Dr. Yves Robert. "It can be interpreted now as an act contravening the Criminal Code."
Robert said in the exceptional cases where a patient’s death is imminent or inevitable, euthanasia could be considered as along as it follows the patient’s wishes and done in the "context of compassion."
The College says it recognizes the debate is one that will elicit strong opinions on both sides.
Over the years, polls have shown the population at large is in favour of euthanasia.
The College was expected to take this particular stand. Earlier this summer its ethics task force concluded that society could accept euthanasia in specific cases.
The College’s announcement comes as Bill C-384, seeking to legalize euthanasia for those in physical or mental distress, undergoes second reading in Parliament. The bill, sponsored by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde, is not supported by the College because it’s too broad, Lamontagne said. It’s not expected to pass.
Undoubtedly, the debate over euthanasia has held more traction in this province.
Earlier this summer, a survey of more than 2,000 Quebec medical specialists by its professional body found that 75 per cent were in favour of euthanasia, so long as it took place within clear guidelines. Last week, a survey released by the province’s family doctors revealed similar results.
The survey by the Fédération des médecins specialistes du Québec also found a surprising 81 per cent of the doctors said they had seen euthanasia practiced in Quebec, typically involving sedation and coming after medical treatment has ended.