Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Montreal disability groups say discussion of euthanasia is premature when health services for disabled people are lacking

From The Gazette in Montreal, Canada:

MONTREAL, Canada — As provincial hearings on "dying with dignity" wrapped up in Montreal Feb. 4, two groups representing some of society's most vulnerable raised concerns about legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Association quebecoise de gerontologie, which includes more than 300 health professionals, called instead for the expansion of palliative care services to provide comfort to the terminally ill.

And the Association de spina-bifida et d'hydrocephalie du Quebec argued that a debate on euthanasia is premature, given that health services for the disabled are lacking everywhere.

Catherine Geoffroy, president of the association of gerontologists, told the committee that assisted suicide and euthanasia are often presented as ways to die with dignity — a dig at the committee, which uses the motto.

"In a society where ageism is rampant, where the elderly are often held responsible for the difficulties in access to health care . . . how can we believe that consenting to euthanasia would be free of all societal pressures?" Geoffroy asked.

She noted that only 10 per cent of Quebecers have access to palliative care at the end of their lives, and that many elderly die in nursing homes where there is little palliative care.

"We believe that adequate palliative care can decrease the factors that lead a small proportion of people to demand an end to their lives," she said. "Palliative sedation, carried out in a strict medical manner, can respond to the concerns about dying in uncontrollable pain."

Marc Picard, president of the association that represents 9,000 people living with spina bifida and congenital hydrocephalus in Quebec, said his group is taking a neutral position on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

He argued the government should "fulfil its obligations to provide basic psychological and health services to the population before talking about the possibility of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide."

The provincial hearings were triggered, in part, by a position taken last year by the Quebec College of Physicians that cautiously endorsed doctor-assisted suicide under certain conditions.

The hearings now move to St. Jereme and conclude in Quebec City by the end of the month. The committee, headed by provincial Liberal legislator Geoffrey Kelley, hopes to complete its report by June.