Update (July 18, 2014) – Quebec’s new euthanasia law is being challenged in court. We are thankful that the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, have filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal. The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of Bill 52 that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a euphemism used to describe euthanasia.
“Great civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.”
*For a thorough ethical, legal and medical critique of Quebec’s euthanasia law, check out Dr. Margaret Somerville’s brief to the Quebec Health Committee. Her brief is No. 053M.
By Mark Penninga (www.ARPACanada.ca): These words are credited to the famed 20th Century historian Arnold Toynbee who wrote a 12-volume book set about the rise and fall of 26 civilizations.
Toynbee’s statement takes on a morbid new meaning when we see how Quebec is rushing to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. With reckless abandon, the province is throwing aside its moral grounding and forging ahead in search of a new identity. Those who thought that this was stalled in the recent election of a Liberal government can think again.
Bill 52, reintroduced by the new Couillard government, will allow doctors to lethally inject their patients if they have physical or psychological pain. Because the bill was fast-tracked, it is possible that state-sanctioned killing is law in Quebec within a couple of weeks.
Although Bill 52 was first introduced by the previous PQ government and died as a result of the recent election, the new Liberal government has quickly reintroduced it, with no substantial amendments. It then proceeded to move the bill to the same stage as it was prior to the election, which required unanimous, and likely coerced, approval from all MNAs.
So why is this such a big deal? Bill 52 would cross a line that Canada has never crossed in its existence, at least for born humans.
When the state condones euthanasia it is codifying that some lives are not worth living. It is acknowledging that dignity does not come from being human but rather from feeling dignified. It puts a burden on every disabled, terminally ill, aged, and even depressed citizen to justify their existence in a society where they are increasingly an inconvenience.
Just as freedom requires eternal vigilance, human rights require a moral foundation capable of sustaining them. Although Quebec may find it embarrassing, its foundation includes the Judeo-Christian principle of human dignity. Human life, created in the image of God, possesses a worth that is not lost because of disability, disease, or feelings of self-worth. It is this principle which grounds basic human rights, as well as the Criminal Code prohibitions against murder… and euthanasia.
Whether the religious grounding is recognized or not, the reality is that all human rights flow from the belief that humans, simply by being human, are granted basic rights and responsibilities. If we decide by consensus that this is no longer the case, upon what basis can we maintain any of the other rights that we find convenient for the moment?
As I mentioned in a previous article, western society forgets its lessons so quickly. It was less than 70 years ago that we saw what happens when the foundation for human rights is undermined. Dr. Leo Alexander was an investigator in the Nuremberg Trials and also contributed to writing the Nuremberg Code. In 1949 Dr. Alexander wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine where he revealed some telling observations from the trials:
“Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitudes of physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic to the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted, and finally all non-Germans.”
The Quebec government is doing what it can to sterilize Bill 52, using terms like “medical aid in dying.” But putting a white coat on the person administering the needle doesn’t change what is happening. The state is sanctioning the death of humans whom we (the strong) determine should not be worth living.
The foundations of a society crumble when we decide that some lives are not worth living.