“Most people want palliative care, but for the exceptional cases, we need to have an answer.”1 These were the words of Véronique Hivon, Quebec’s Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection on June 12, 2013 as she introduced a bill to legalize euthanasia in Quebec. Though Minister Hivon took great pains to call it “medical aid in dying,” the practice is not part of medicine as Canada has understood it to date, neither does it “aid patients in dying.” Quebec’s proposed legislation allows doctors to kill patients who request death, purportedly only in “exceptional cases.”
The problem with Minister Hivon’s statement is (at least) twofold. Firstly, the proposed law is not in itself limited to cases of exceptional suffering. Secondly, international evidence shows that once assisted suicide or euthanasia are legalized, the once-selective criteria expand to include more and more people. This is as true in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, as it is in Oregon and Washington State, where assisted suicide was legalized in 1997 and 2009, respectively.
In Oregon, the number of deaths by assisted suicide has doubled since 2005.2 Prescriptions for a poisonous cocktail to kill patients have grown by 76% over the same timeframe.3 The population of Oregon grew by seven percent during this timeframe.4
In Washington, between 2009 and 2012, the number of deaths by assisted suicide grew 130%.5 Over the same period, Washington’s population grew only 18%.6
In the Netherlands, the number of deaths by euthanasia has increased by 64% between 2005 and 2010.7 In comparison, the Dutch population grew by less that two percent over the same interval.8
This paper will briefly examine Quebec’s proposal and compare it with the situations in Oregon, Washington State, and the Netherlands.
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