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Push for advanced directives dismays groups

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Anti-euthanasia groups have expressed dismay at a political push in Quebec for advanced directives for dementia patients, following the murder of a woman by her caregiver husband.

And if Quebec opens up euthanasia for those who sign advanced directives before they become incapacitated, the rest of Canada could follow, warns Aubert Martin, the executive director of the Quebec grassroots group Living with Dignity/Vivre dans la Dignité.

Quebec’s euthanasia law is more restrictive than the federal law in that it limits the killing of patients to those who have the capacity to consent and who are terminally ill.

Martin noted the federal euthanasia law passed last year included study on contentious issues such as advanced directives, euthanasia for consenting minors, and for those with mental illness. “What’s happening in Quebec will have a great impact on the ongoing studies that started in December,” he said.

“The ‘slippery slope’ is really a logical extension,” said Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “Once you legalize killing it becomes discrimination not to allow it for someone under 18, for mental illness alone, or for those with advanced directives.”

“The mistake was allowing it in the first place,” he said. “Now how do you put a lid on it.”

Schadenberg expressed concern that groups like his are not part of the study the federal government is doing, but instead seems to be relying on research from euthanasia advocates.

The pressure to open up euthanasia to the mentally incapacitated follows the laying of second degree murder charges against Michel Cadotte for the death of his wife, Jocelyne Lizotte, 60, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s going at a very fast speed, the pressure to include advanced directives,” said Martin. “At first, we were shocked by the reaction of the Quebec government and all parties, actually.”

He noted the investigation into the death is only beginning and Cadotte had admitted on Facebook that he had “cracked” under the pressure of caring for his wife.

“Instead of questioning the lack of resources to support caregivers, the government and all parties jumped to the conclusion that we should open euthanasia to incapacitated people,” Martin said. “It’s quite shocking. It’s not the kind of reaction we would expect a government to have. It’s like they are eager to open the debate, as if they were waiting for that somehow.

The Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia expressed sadness at Lizotte’s death and outrage at the “loneliness her husband experienced, and that of so many other caregivers, relatives or spouses of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s,” in a Feb. 27 news release. “But what is most disturbing is the reaction of politicians for whom the ‘solution’ to this tragedy is to propose euthanasia by advance directive for people suffering from dementia.

“Imagine killing a person, who does not ask to die, with composure, because earlier in her life she wrote that she did not want to get where she is now,” the Alliance said, noting a case like this happened recently in the Netherlands where a woman had to be held down by her family while a doctor administered a lethal injection she resisted receiving.

“That woman, even though she had mental disease, clearly she didn’t want to die, so they had to struggle with her,” said Martin. “Her family had to help the physician to forcibly restrain her.”

“Most people with dementia quickly lose consciousness of their condition,” the Alliance said. “The vast majority are happy, in a safe and welcoming environment, whether in society, in family or in specialized residences.”

“These people suffer when they are treated with contempt,” the Alliance said. “In our medical practice we see extraordinary examples of patients who are loved and well cared for; we also see heartbreaking examples of neglected and abused people.”

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