Quebec assisted-dying law to come into effect Thursday, health minister says
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 9, 2015 4:19AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 9, 2015 11:27PM EST
MONTREAL -- Controversial Quebec legislation on assisted dying will become law on Thursday, says the province's health minister.
Gaetan Barrette made the announcement Wednesday after Quebec's top tribunal gave the provincial government permission to appeal a lower-court decision that granted an injunction aimed at blocking adoption of the law.
"That (Quebec Court of Appeal) ruling means that, as of tomorrow (Thursday), Bill 2 will be implemented fully," he told a news conference.
"The ruling does not state anything for or against Bill 2 in any way. What it says is that, as of tomorrow, Bill 2 can be implemented until there is a definitive hearing and definitive decision...on the actual grounds of the appeal."
Lawyers will be in court for that appeal on Dec. 18, although a decision from the bench that day is considered unlikely.
Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee issued a statement later Wednesday and said the government will send guidelines to the Crown prosecutors' office in Quebec in a bid to reassure people in the medical community who may be worried about criminal proceedings.
She said the guideline is aimed at "allowing people at the end of their lives to receive care that respects their dignity and their autonomy."
The legislation, which was adopted by the national assembly in June 2014, outlines how terminally ill patients can end their lives with medical help.
Quebec is the first province to pass such legislation, arguing it is an extension of end-of-life care and thus a health issue, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.
The injunction sought by the Quebec-based Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice and Lisa D'Amico, a handicapped woman, was related to a Supreme Court ruling last February that struck down the prohibition on physician-assisted dying.
The high court's decision gave the federal government 12 months to craft a new law to recognize the right of clearly consenting adults with enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.
Barrette again defended the law at his news conference.
"Bill 2 is about care," he said. "It's not about assisted suicide. It's not about, in our view, euthanasia."
Asked why the province just doesn't wait until Dec. 18, or until the appeals process is complete, to implement the law, Barrette replied it has been in the works for 18 months.
"People in this province have had the debate," he said. "People are waiting for that law. I don't think there are people waiting to have access to medical aid in dying but the principle of having the choice is something people want to have."
A palliative care centre in Sherbrooke, Que., said last month it would provide the service starting Feb. 1. La Maison Aube-Lumiere, which provides care to those with terminal cancer, said it is the first facility of its kind to adopt such a policy.
It expects to see only two or three cases a year.
Earlier on Wednesday, Quebec government lawyers argued a Superior Court justice erred in issuing the injunction without hearing full arguments on the matter. That judgment concluded that certain provisions in Quebec's law run afoul of the Criminal Code, which prohibits assisted suicide.
A few hours later, Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Robert Mainville granted the appeal.
"Refusing permission to appeal in such an important constitutional dossier and one that raises questions that are just as fundamental would amount to calling into question the raison d'etre of the appeals court," he said in his ruling.
"I therefore have no hesitation in concluding that justice requires that permission to appeal be granted in this case. However..., granting such permission must not be interpreted as invalidating or validating the lower-court judgment."