Help to die? Careful what you ask for

Lysiane Gagnon
Special to The Globe and Mail, October 9, 2013

Quebec is at the forefront of the “right to die” movement. A law legalizing what is euphemistically called “medical help to die” will soon be adopted, since all the provincial political parties agree on the issue and there have been few dissident voices. At first glance, this looks like a surprising unanimity. But the reality is somewhat murkier.

In a survey conducted in September for a group of physicians involved in palliative care, Ipsos Marketing found that the issue is fraught with huge misunderstandings and that the soft expression chosen by the government is misleading.

Only one-third of Quebeckers understand (correctly) that “medical help to die” means active euthanasia: a lethal injection performed by a physician on a patient who requested death. Another third of respondents confuse this procedure with palliative care. And 40 per cent confuse it with withdrawing the aggressive life-support techniques that can artificially prolong life. As for the rest of Canada, the survey shows that only 59 per cent can provide a correct definition of euthanasia. (In total, 2,078 Canadians were polled, including 1,010 in Quebec.)

Another source of confusion is the association of medically assisted suicide – this is what we’re really talking about here – with the concept of “dignity.” The report of the three-party committee that paved the way for the current bill was titled Mourir Dans La Dignité (Dying With Dignity), as if natural death was an undignified, vaguely shameful end of life.

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