Dialogue promotes dignity

The Quebec College of Physicians has formally endorsed euthanasia “in certain exceptional situations,” the Toronto Star reported Nov. 3.

A poll of 2,000 medical specialists in Quebec indicated 75 per cent support euthanasia, while 81 per cent of the doctors had witnessed euthanasia being practiced in the province.

Euthanasia is currently illegal in Canada, but the Quebec group said forms of it are practiced anyway. For instance, terminally ill patients are often prescribed painkillers like morphine to reduce suffering, but taking painkillers in such high doses can be fatal.

The College’s endorsement of euthanasia can be interpreted as a move that conflicts with the Criminal Code. The group is calling for new legislation that will reflect the importance of euthanasia and the reality that it exists already. It’s surprising the Quebec College of Physicians is showing formal support for such a legal and moral grey area of medicine. But the group’s recognition of euthanasia’s value as an end-of-the-line option in patient care is praiseworthy.

With a high proportion of Quebec doctors saying they already witness forms of euthanasia in practise, it seems illogical to have to skirt around the law to perform a course of action perceived as commonplace.

Euthanasia shouldn’t be sanctioned simply because we know it’s happening. But it prevails because it offers an escape route for terminally ill people who have exhausted all other treatment options and wish to die with dignity.

Euthanasia does invite concerns of abuse and should be closely regulated. Hospitals should consider case-based applications or licenses for physicians involved in the practice of euthanasia.

It’s a doctor’s role to enhance his or her ill patient’s quality of life. With an aging population and the predicted onslaught of health care issues, the College’s endorsement comes at a good time to open discussions about how terminally ill patients should best be treated.

The Quebec College of Physicians has taken the initiative to share their views and generate discussion. With one of the most practical, hands-on takes on the issue, physicians are well-suited to set public dialogue on the right course.

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