Today (June 12, 2013) in the Quebec National Assembly, the Dying with Dignity Bill was tabled by the Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection Véronique Hivon. The bill would allow for physician assisted dying in cases of patients near death who are suffering and have requested assisted suicide. The Assembly adjourns for the summer this Friday so the debate and vote on the bill won’t happen until fall. Should the bill pass, it will have complex and confounding implications for end-of-life care in Quebec and Canada. While the bill creates the possibility of assisted suicide in Quebec, carrying out the actual act will be met with substantive legal challenges, physician opposition to participation and debates on who and how these decisions to proceed are made.
Our health care system continues to underutilize and under-deliver palliative services. The first option for patients with terminal or life-threatening conditions. This must remain the public policy priority.
HPCO position on the issues is that of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (CSPCP). We believe that Canadians to ensure that there is universal access to quality hospice palliative care and that physician assisted suicide or euthanasia are not part of the palliative care continuum.
The expectation that the hospice palliative care community will carry out assisted suicide for persons facing end-of-life is misguided. Quality hospice palliative care is focused on improving the quality of life for patients and their families. Quality hospice palliative care neither hastens death or prolongs life. Doris Barwich, president of the Canadian Society for Palliative Care Physicians says “A recent survey of the CSPCP (to which almost half of members responded) showed that an overwhelming majority of our physicians were opposed to the legalization of euthanasia (88%). Furthermore, 90% of responding members would not be willing to participate in the act of euthanasia.” A recent survey of CMA members’ views on major end-of-life issues has found that only 20% of respondents would be willing to participate if euthanasia is legalized in Canada, while twice as many (42%) would refuse to do so.
Assisted suicide, physician assisted dying, and euthanasia is an important public dialogue but the hospice palliative care community should not be expected to provide these services. HPCO promotes the Let’s Talk About Hospice Palliative Care First campaign which provides information on the importance of hospice palliative care.