Quebec adopts a liberal approach to euthanasia: What about Canada’s criminal code?

Publié le : 10 June 2014

 At the end of last week, earlier than anticipated, Quebec adopted its draft law 52 relating to “end of life care”, and became the first Canadian province to approve “medically assisted dying”. The controversial debate continues, prompted by the Federal Government in Ottawa and the medical profession, which has raised the possibility of legal proceedings.   


The legislation. This new law, adopted last Thursday by 94 MPs to 22, refers to medically assisted dying, which is reserved for patients with incurable diseases who are experiencing “exceptional suffering”. Doctors authorising this form of assistance must confirm that pain relief is no longer feasible with medicinal products. This legislation provides for the introduction of a series of medical directives anticipated to “prioritise” wishes that are expressed “clearly and voluntarily”. The request for medical assistance to die must be put forward by the patient.  He/she must sign a form “drafted by the Ministry of Health”, in the presence of a “healthcare professional”.


Wording and reality. So what exactly does the legislation say? For Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s Prime Minister and an advocate of this form of legislation, it is about care, not euthanasia. For the Federal Government, this legislation relates to assisted suicide and euthanasia, which are prohibited and come under the criminal code.


Concerns about blunders.  In the liberal party ranks (led by Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of the Province), some MPs did not vote in favour of the legislation, such as Christine Saint-Pierre, who vehemently opposes the bill. She explained her reasoning, “We cannot authorise someone to kill even if it is a physician or a member of the medical profession” and emphasised the gaps in the law adopted: “We have no definition in the draft bill. When does end of life begin?  […] I am afraid of blunders, I am afraid of the pressures that could be placed on a sick person […]”. On the other hand, the Collectif des médecins contre l’euthanasie (Physician’s Alliance for the Refusal of Euthanasia) held a conference on Sunday to discuss the spin-offs that Quebec can anticipate in the light of what is happening in other countries such as Belgium. Dr. Georges Casteur, Belgian physician, commented as follows: “It’s an illusion to believe that legislation governing euthanasia can be limited to people who are terminally ill and those who request euthanasia” bearing in mind that the “range of people eligible for medical assistance in relation to death” is set to increase.


Legal proceedings by doctors. Between now and when the legislation takes effect, i.e. in 18 months time, the Collectif des médecins contre l’euthanasie (which unites approximately 600 physicians) intends to launch legal proceedings basing their case on the Criminal Code.

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