Is Canada bringing back public executions?
The assisted-dying industry is turning death into a gruesome commercial enterprise.
Canada’s last public execution took place over 150 years ago. But now, thanks to the latest euthanasia legislation, the practice could be making a return, albeit in slightly different form.
Quebec has just passed a new law known as Bill 11. This will amend current euthanasia law in Quebec, allowing so-called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) to be administered by nurses as well as doctors. Most shocking of all, the bill will allow MAID to take place in public parks and at beauty spots. It will also force hospices and private hospitals to offer MAID on their premises, essentially banishing conscience rights.
Chillingly, the bill will also allow MAID for ‘severe physical impairment involving significant and persistent incapacitation’ – in other words, for all those suffering with a serious disability. This means that those asking to be euthanised will no longer need to claim that they are suffering unbearably.
The passage of this law comes at a time when MAID is becoming ever-more common in Quebec, the second most populous Canadian province. Projections suggest that, by the end of the year, MAID will account for seven per cent of all deaths in Quebec. This would be two per cent higher than the figures for 2021. Even back then, Quebec was ahead of other places that offer euthanasia, such as the Netherlands (where it accounts for 4.5 per cent of deaths) and Belgium (2.5 per cent).
The demand for medically assisted death is increasing throughout all of Canada. But Quebec is leading the way. As Dr Claude Rivard, who offers euthanasia services to eligible patients, puts it: ‘There is a market in Quebec… There is a craze for this mode of end-of-life.’
Legally, MAID cannot be promoted for commercial gain and there can be no fees charged for the procedure itself. But that hasn’t stopped savvy businesses from making the most of the opportunity.
Indeed, one of the reasons the new legislation has been hustled along is because of entrepreneurs like Mathieu Baker. Baker is the owner of a funeral home that offers rooms in which people can be euthanised. Rooms are available from $700 upwards. Customers can watch a movie and enjoy a glass of wine before receiving the lethal injection. ‘Some people want to be in groups of four or five, and we’ve had groups of up to 30 people’, Baker says. One woman who used the service shared a pizza with her daughter and an employee of the home. They then watched the film Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, and she had a final cigarette before a doctor put her to sleep.
Baker’s services contravened existing legislation. So legislators decided to expand the settings in which MAID can be legally administered.
Quebec has long been at the forefront of euthanasia legislation. In 2014, it became the first jurisdiction in Canada to legalise assisted dying. This forced the federal government to legalise the practice throughout the nation.
More recently, in late 2022, Dr Louis Roy of the Quebec College of Physicians suggested to a Canadian House of Commons committee that the law should allow the euthanasia of infants suffering ‘severe malformations’ and of older people who are simply ‘tired of being alive’.
This is very different to how euthanasia was initially sold to Canadians. It was promoted under the guise of compassion. It was supposedly about allowing terminally ill but mentally competent adults to choose how their lives ended. The most stringent of safeguards were promised.
But as the experience of Quebec shows, once assisted dying of any variety is legalised as a medical treatment for suffering it quickly becomes a solution for many more of life’s problems – including even poverty and homelessness.
Perhaps the most grotesque aspect of Quebec’s MAID legislation is the extent to which it thrusts death into the public and commercial realms. It has turned dying into a casual menu choice, with optional add-ons. All for an extra charge, of course.
Death is being trivialised, turned into a consumer experience. The death of a loved one should be an occasion for tears, sorrow and deep reflection, not coffee and pastries, or wine and a cigarette. Our attitude towards death reflects the value we attribute to life. The cultural shift underway in Quebec should serve as a warning to the world.
Kevin Yuill is the author of Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation.
Picture by: Mufid Majnun.