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Quebec Patients and Physicians denounce euthanasia law due to medical errors, lack of services and needless lost lives
There are a number of examples of lives that could have been lost if the present Quebec and Canadian laws had existed a few years ago when certain patients had to make life or death decisions based on errors in diagnosis and/or prognosis. The first diagnostic error case arose in 2004, when 54-year-old Alexandre Montreuil underwent lung-removal surgery. During the surgery, an open biopsy revealed that he had been misdiagnosed with a large lung cancer -- he actually had a rare fungal infection of blastomycosis. Fortunately, he was cured with anti-fungal medicines.
When first told of his lung cancer, he considered suicide, having witnessed the slow death of some friends in similar circumstances. If today's euthanasia laws had been available, he would have considered this option. Today he is avidly against euthanasia "because doctors can make errors."
Another cancer misdiagnosis example is that of Ginette Dumesnil. In 2012 she was informed of a "plum size" lung cancer. Surgery resulted in not only part of her lung being removed but also the discovery that the cancer was benign. Thus, Ginette believes that doctors can make mistakes in diagnosis -- which could push some people to prematurely end their lives with euthanasia. According to Dr. Saba, this is consistent with medical studies confirming severe diagnostic errors in up to 20% of such cases.
Prognosis is sometimes an unsure science. Ginette Lamarche was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to her lung and was given a somber prognosis of only 6 months to a year to live. But she worked an additional 6 years right to the end. She was the former President of the Royal Lifesaving Society and worked during her cancer treatment as a human resource trainer of leaders in Quebec industry. According to her oncologist Dr. Moghabri, "People like Ginette Lamarche must be treated as individuals and not like statistics."
A leading Montreal cancer oncologist now adds his comments to growing concern of medical errors in patient prognosis: "We cannot assure a patient will die in a predictable time frame of a year or even 18 months. Cancer care is evolving so rapidly with new treatments that it is impossible and inappropriate to predict prognosis as far as a year in advance."
Chronically ill patients (such as those suffering from lung disease) may prematurely decide to end their lives based on incorrect predictions. For example, in 2007, Mona Latour was told that she only had a few months to live. At that time, if it had been available, she would have opted for euthanasia. However, today she is happy to be alive and rejoices in caring for her new grandchild. She argues against euthanasia because of medicine's progress in treatment and errors in predicting longevity.
Dr. Ron Olivenstein, Director of Respiratory in-Patient Services at the MUHC (formerly Montreal Chest Hospital), states that it is very difficult to prognosticate longevity for people with severe chronic lung disease. He decries the lack of availability of pulmonary rehabilitation services for these patients. Indeed, studies substantiate that people with chronic lung disease benefit equally from lung strengthening (rehabilitation)
Dr. Saba continues to advocate for national cancer care and improved health care for all Canadians. The Canadian government currently only spends 20 cents per dollar on health care compared to 50 cents in the early days of Medicare. He argues that given today's circumstances of underfunded health care, some people could be led to believe that the real reason the Canadian and Quebec governments are promoting assisted suicide and euthanasia is "to save money and allow people to die when in fact they or many of them could live many more valuable years if proper care was provided for them."
Dr. Paul Saba M.D.
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