Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Courage Isn't A Liability

The proposal below betrays two supposed core tenets for any party in opposition hoping to oust the government. One, you never put forth a controversial policy which makes YOU the focus- the two most recent examples, John Tory and Stephane Dion. The second, never be so provocative, that you galvanize opposition, particularly if the issue can be emotional and irrational. These solid, but sometimes misleading cautions aside, the following consideration offers both a moral imperative, as well as potential political "upside", albeit it risky. For a party desperate to redefine itself, I think we should give the issue of euthanasia a serious look.

What is lacking on this file isn't public mood, but political courage, primarily because you unearth a hornet's nest. Any polling I've seen shows majority support for euthanasia as an available option. There is also a great degree of "institutional" support, from those that deal with the complexities in their profession. In fact, the political realm is a lagging indicator, when one considers where the public is on this issue. I proposed supporting euthanasia a couple of months ago, and I believe it merits further consideration, in light of recent events:
Amending the Criminal Code to make euthanasia legal in Canada would likely gain the support of three-quarters of Quebec's medical specialists, says a new survey that is the latest chapter in a growing debate on physician-assisted suicide.

The Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists, which represents more than 8,700 physicians in the province, said yesterday that "75% of medical specialists would certainly or probably be favourable to euthanasia within a clearly defined legislative limit."

Dr. Gaetan Barrette, president of the federation, told a Montreal news conference the controversy over euthanasia has similarities to the abortion debate that took place in Canada decades ago, when doctors followed the lead of the public.

"Society was ahead," he said. "Doctors came after, and then governments legislated much later after [the] Superior Court had to rule [on the issue]," he said.

However, polls in Canada have consistently shown strong support among the general population for euthanasia. This summer, Angus Reid found 77% of Quebecers believe euthanasia should be allowed. In 2004, Environics Research Group found 68% of all Canadians approved of euthanasia and in a poll last year it found 44% would choose euthanasia and 44% would opt for palliative care.

I support euthanasia, in a limited sense, based on my own moral compass. However, I think there is also an argument to be made, relating to the political "upside". At first blush, the idea is rife with risk, taboo for a overly timid Liberal Party appartus. This initial scoff fails to drill down in my estimation, because while you bring the FOCUS, the ground is fertile. What we have is a classic discussion of individual rights, classic "liberal" terrority, even analogous to a Trudeau-like "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation". This type of stance doesn't legislate assisted suicide, because individuals are free to chose their own path. What it does, is eliminate subjective morality, it recognizes a decidedly grey ethical question.

Canadians aren't naive to these questions, our realities mean each of us have been touched by terminal illness, those that haven't will. This basic fact explains why the public may well be ahead of the politicians in their viewpoint. While any consideration would surely unleash a fury of resistance from predictable sources, this "galvanization" also attracts the counter. If you look at the Liberal roadmap, you find acceptance of the concept where we need support. A smart, incremental reform proposal isn't radical, it's actually mainstream and that's the bottomline. Couple that reality with a need to redefine the brand, and modernizing our views on euthanasia, becomes an attractor. This is the type of issue that demands a degree of courage, but it's not lunacy because the profession and the public are ready for the discussion.

Something to chew on...


Why look, an opinion piece in the National Post no less.


Mark Francis said...

It would be about time to pull up an issue which drives a wedge inside the Conservative Party. Euthanasia? Why not? That'll get the fundies going.

Of course, some Liberals will not support it either.

In this vein, some other ideas...

Anything which deals with LGBT issues is good.

I thought Dhalla's bill is great, despite there being a price tag. Anything allowing greater immigration from anywhere non-white would help. Preferably Muslims. That'll get Mark Steyn going.

The Liberals should push for sweeping reforms to the HRC, but not the kind that Ezra Levant wants. Maybe improve processes, that sort of thing.

Renew the Court Challenges program.

Keep abortion at the current status quo, but make it law. Get it?

Any more ideas?

This is all terribly cynical, but it works.

Koby said...

This one is a no brainer. Yes some Liberals will object under the guise that this might anger the evangelicals and conservative catholics. However, support for measure is widespread and especially strong in the various parts of the country where the Liberals badly need to make a splash. Besides, it is high time those Liberals who warn of evangelical backlash address the non-religious elephant in the living room. 16.2 % of Canadians describe themselves as non-religious in the 2001 census; this represented a 44% increase since 1991. There are far more non-religious Canadians than there are evangelicals Canadians and the non-religious are growing much faster in absolute and relative terms. Such a trend is especially pronounced in one area the Liberals are looking to make a comeback. Namely, 42% of Vancouverites describe themselves as non-religious.

JimmE said...

I've been a Liberal since as a kid I ran for coffee for folks at Paul Hellier's campaign office in 1968. I've also worked pretty much every federal & provincial election in some way since. If this was Liberal policy I would void my membership, withdraw my victory fund contributions, and not vote on election day.
Sorry, there are lots of people I know who would do the same.

Steve V said...


I've never understood why someone's personal opposition means they can't accept the right of others to make their own choice.