Quebec introduces controversial 'dying with dignity' bill
A bill to give residents in Quebec the right to request “medical aid to die” has been introduced in the province’s National Assembly.
Bill 52 spells out the conditions for someone to get medical assistance to die, as well as the necessary conditions for a doctor to become involved. If the bill passes, it would be the first legislation of its kind in Canada.
The controversial bill received its first reading Wednesday, just a few days before members of the legislative assembly break for the summer. While the bill is not likely to be debated before the fall, Quebec Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon had promised she would table the bill before the break.
That promise followed the release of a report in March 2012, prepared by a non-partisan committee that had consulted with Quebecers on the issue of assisted suicide for close to two years.
The 175-page report concluded that doctors should be allowed, in exceptional circumstances, to help terminally ill patients to die, if the patients make that request.
The report made 24 recommendations, including a call to overhaul the province’s palliative, or end-of-life care services.
The bill will have to receive the support of at least one of Quebec’s opposition parties to move forward.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are both illegal under the Criminal Code. But a panel of legal experts came to the conclusion in January that provinces have jurisdiction to propose legislation in matters of health.
The wording of the legislation is also expected to clarify how certain acts to end a life cannot be considered assisted suicide.
Canada's laws are in stark contrast to European countries, such as Belgium -- one of the few places where euthanasia is legal.
Dr. Marcel Boulanger of the Quebec Association for the Right to Die with Dignity says as Canada’s population ages, end of life care is becoming a greater concern.
“Palliative care is really a good answer for most of those cases, but it’s not a response to every case,” Boulanger told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. “Some people cannot be relieved of their suffering, whether it’s physical or psychological, some people cannot be relieved in the end and we have to find another way out for these patients.”
Boulanger said the Quebec legislation is essentially a “copy and paste” of the euthanasia laws in Belgium.
“It’s proven to be quite safe,” he said.
However, Hugh Scher of the Euthanasia Prevention Council said there are plenty of examples of abuse in the Belgium system.
“In Belgium, 32 per cent of people who are killed under this law are killed without their requests and without their consent,” he said.
“This is the first time in Canada that any government has suggested that the intentional killing of a patient should form part of any level of health care delivery,” he said. “And that is most disturbing.”
Deb Hanscom, a lawyer representing charity Dying With Dignity said she was “grateful” to the Quebec government for proposing legislation that gives vulnerable Canadians options.
"Most people don’t really want to die, what they want to have is an option if their suffering is unbearable,” she told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday.
However, the question of dementia-related illness and voluntary consent is a missing gap in the legislation, Hanscom said.
“Very integral to all of it is voluntariness and consent,” she said. “And once you no longer have competence, you can’t make a choice, and a pre-made choice isn’t considered to be applicable,” she said. “So there is still going to be a gap for certain afflictions.”
Views on medical aid for death vary among those who face terminal or degenerative illness.
Nicole Gladu, who was struck by polio as a child and now copes with post-polio syndrome, said she will one day want her suffering to end.
“I’m not afraid to die, I don’t want to die, but I am afraid of agony,” she said in an interview with CTV News.
Gladu is studying the Quebec bill, and said she wants it to go further – specifically, to allow those with a degenerative disease to choose when they want to end their lives, not only when they are near death.
Frank Humphrey, who is in the final stages of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, does not support the bill. Humphrey cannot move or breathe without assistance.
“He wants to live because he feels he has a lot left to give still,” said his wife, Daria Humphrey.
His doctor, Paul Saba has advocated against medical aid in dying.
“It’s wrong medically and there’s going to be abuse,” he told CTV News.
In a statement, Attorney General Rob Nicholson said the federal government will review the implications of the proposed legislation.
“The laws that prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are potentially the most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly, and people with disabilities,” he said.
He noted that “a large majority” of parliamentarians voted not to change the laws in 2010.
“This is a sensitive issue for many Canadians, with deeply held beliefs on both sides of the debate,” Nicholson said.
With a report by CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin