If the acts of euthansia or assisted suicide required using a pillow instead of a pill, would you favour legalization?

This is the one key question to be asked in the debates. Everything else is either an extension of, or distraction from, that central issue.

We will hear an enormous amount of extended arguing against the practices, and clever attempts at distraction from those who support it, now that Quebec has announced the introduction of legislation to define so-called "medical aid to die" as legitimate health care in the province.

The last hurdle to the legislation was yesterday's release of an "expert legal opinion" claiming that legalizing "medical aid to die" is within Quebec's constitutional jurisdiction and does not intrude on federal authority over criminal law prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The opinion was a complete sham, of course, since no one in the province ever expected its authors to say anything else. For three years, an elite clique has been manically manipulating every lever of power they can get in their grasp in order to force their death obsession through the National Assembly and down Quebecers' throats.

A consultative committee of provincial MNAs that spent more than $1 million holding hearings purporting to listen to Quebecers was exposed as a complete fraud when one of the panel's own members openly acknowledged they simply ignored more than 40 submissions they didn't agree with.

No matter that more than 50 Quebec medical doctors and some of the province's most senior academics and intellectuals signed one of those submissions. The fix was in from the start. Now, Quebec is mere months away from giving the final lethal fix to the sick and suffering.

Part of the problem is that opponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide have been forced to argue that the practices should remain anathema because of the danger they present to the depressed, the disabled, the down but not yet out. It's an understandable position, and a legitimate fear.

The slippery slope, after all, is not some fanciful place on the landscape of paranoid imagination. It's not only real; it has a name: Belgium.

On the weekend, Belgian doctors acknowledged they euthanized twin 45-year-old brothers because they were deaf, were going blind, and could not bear being unable to see each other. Neither man was terminally ill. Neither was suffering physical pain. The Belgian government is also seeking to legalize the euthanizing of children and Alzheimer's patients.

Against such horrors, however, euthanasia and assisted suicide proponents have two ready-aye-ready answers: a) we're not Belgians and b) we've got safeguards.

As the great Quebec legal-medical ethicist Margaret Somerville argues, the case against euthanasia and assisted suicide should never come down to whether we can undertake either practice safely. It should always remain at the fundamental level of moral revulsion toward killing another human being.

Capital punishment, as a comparable, is no less abhorrent just because it is inflicted with three neat needles in an inmate's arm rather than an electric chair that sets the condemned convict's head on fire. In the immortal words of the trenchant social observer and ironist Steve Earle from the soundtrack for the movie Dead Man Walking:

"Well, folks just got too civilized
Sparky's gatherin' dust
'Cause no one wants to touch a smokin' gun
And since they got the injection
They don't mind as much, I guess
They just put 'em down at Ellis Unit One."

Enter the pillow. Imagine trying to justify either euthanasia or assisted suicide if either act had to be performed by placing a pillow over someone's face and pressing down as forcefully as needed until they stopped kicking and struggling from the body's inherent desire to breathe. We would immediately dismiss it as an insane regression to pure barbarism. We would instantly be able to visualize the physically violent horror of what was being proposed.

All that the substitution of a pill or a needle or some other form of neatness does is allow us to avoid picturing concretely what we would be doing. It lets us use the balm of abstraction to avoid confronting our own infamy.

The intention, and effect, and moral outcome of the pillow and the pill are exactly the same. How did we ever become so distracted as to be unable to see that is the one thing that matters?