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Quebec embarking on euthanasia debate Add to ...

Quebec wants to have a public debate on euthanasia next year in the hope of building a consensus that will persuade the federal government to recognize the controversial practice in law.

A motion tabled yesterday in the National Assembly by the Parti Québécois, and supported by the other opposition parties and the governing Liberals, proposes that a committee begin hearing experts on the issue by early February. The committee will report back on palliative-care conditions, the plight of terminally ill patients, supervisory conditions for exercising the right to euthanasia and other related issues.

During a second phase of the debate, an ad hoc 16-member legislative committee will tour the province to hear the views of individuals and organizations in seeking common ground in defining an individual's right to die.

"We need to have this debate and we need for it to take place in a serene way," said PQ Leader Pauline Marois. "The right to euthanasia, the right to decide under clearly defined circumstances … it is a right to choose to die with dignity."

Liberal MNA Geoffrey Kelly who works with palliative-care services in Montreal-area ridings, has first-hand knowledge of the difficult and trying times patients have to go through in the final days of their lives as families and loved-ones accompany them.

"This is a debate on what we can do as a government, as a society to accompany families when one of their ones is approaching the end of his or her days," Mr. Kelly said in the National Assembly. "I think this is an important debate, it's not a partisan debate. There's not a Liberal position, a Parti Québécois position, or an ADQ [Action Démocratique du Québec]position or a Québec Solidaire position. It is just something the 125 members of the National Assembly have a responsibility to look at."

Quebec believes the outcome of debate in the province may have an influence on how the rest of Canada handles euthanasia. Public opinion polls have shown that Quebec is among those provinces where support for aid in dying is the highest. A Crop poll on the issue at the end of October showed that more than 80 per cent of Quebeckers supported the idea that patients should have the last word in determining the right to die.

Last month, Quebec's College of Physicians endorsed euthanasia in extreme circumstances in a cautiously worded document calling for changes to the Criminal Code. The College of Physicians argued that while offering the appropriate care, doctors also have to take into account the suffering of patients facing "imminent and inevitable death." The change would protect doctors who, following a patient's wish, sometimes boost doses or withhold treatment to end suffering and hasten death.

Earlier this year, Bloc MP Francine Lalonde introduced a bill in the House of Commons that would allow, under certain circumstances, seriously ill people to decide when to end their lives.

The federal government has no plans to bring forward any similar type of legislation, meaning that Quebec may find itself shortchanged if it moves to support euthanasia but unable to persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to amend the Criminal Code.

"We will have the moral weight to ask the federal government to proceed," said PQ health critic Bernard Drainville.

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