Pro-life Christians probably heaved a breath of relief last week when British Columbia’s highest court, in a two-to-one ruling, reversed a lower court decision and upheld a federal law criminalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. It will go next to the Supreme Court of Canada. Before it gets there, however, the Province of Quebec may render the issue moot by legalizing the practice – not by declaring it legal but by refusing to prosecute it.
Unlike in the United States, the enactment of criminal law (principally the Criminal Code) in Canada is exclusively federal; however, the ten provinces have the exclusive constitutional right to prosecute it. Criminal Code section 241 makes it a crime punishable by up to 14 years to “counsel,” “aid” or “abet” a suicide, and the Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper has stated repeatedly it does not intend to change this.
Quebec’s devious dodge
Bill 52, now before the Quebec legislature, is the “Act Respecting End-of-Life Care.” If passed (as looks almost certain) it does not explicitly allow a doctor to kill a patient, or help a patient kill himself. Instead it allows the doctor to allow “terminal palliative sedation” and “medical aid in dying” without defining either one. Quebec is arguing that these are aspects of health care, an exclusively provincial field of jurisdiction.
Quebec says that because the words “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide” do not appear in its new Act, therefore the federal Criminal Code is not being breached. Fatuous? Yes, but that doesn’t mean Quebec won’t get away with it.
Key question: What will Ottawa do to stop it?
One would assume since the Criminal Code trumps any provincial law, this would be open and shut, but it’s not. To prosecute any such case, Ottawa would need the permission of Quebec’s attorney general, plus investigation by Quebec police, neither of which it would get. Or it could put a “reference question” to the Canadian Supreme Court as to whether Quebec’s act is constitutional, but even if the court says it’s not, how then does Ottawa enforce its will? Short of declaring civil war, it can’t.
Add to this that over half of Canadians polled for two decades have said they agree with “voluntary” euthanasia – however little they understand the subject – and the federal government’s hands are even further tied.
Federal ministers continue to insist that they will not “change their position” in opposition to Quebec’s proposed law. However, the question that should be asked is not whether they oppose it but whether – and how – they intend to stop it. At this point the likelihood is that they won’t because they can’t; and from there it will spread as Quebec shows other provincial governments how much cheaper it is to kill sick people than to look after them, as is happening in Belgium and Holland.
- “Redefining the practice of medicine,” The Protection of Conscience Project analysis of Quebec’s Bill 52.