Quebec court overturns injunction against assisted-dying law
Published Tuesday, December 22, 2015 4:20AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 22, 2015 8:55PM EST
Quebec's Court of Appeal has overturned a lower-court decision that prevented the province's doctor-assisted-dying law from going into effect.
The Dying with Dignity law, which outlines how terminally ill patients can end their lives with medical help, was adopted by members of the National Assembly in June, 2014, and became law Dec. 10.
But last month, a Superior Court justice in the province sided with a group of doctors who asked that the law be postponed until February, at least. That judgment concluded that certain provisions in the law run afoul of the Criminal Code, which prohibits assisted suicide.
In Tuesday’s judgment, the Court of Appeal justices noted that the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed those sections of the Code dealing with assisted death unconstitutional. That meant it could no longer be argued that the Criminal Code provisions were paramount to provincial legislation.
It said the Quebec law, called an Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, "does not conflict with either the effect or the objectives of the order suspending" the Criminal Code provisions.
"On the contrary, the suspension order is directed precisely at allowing Parliament and the provincial legislatures who wish to do so, to legislate with respect to physician-assisted death promptly and within their respective legislative spheres," the court said in its ruling.
Under the Quebec legislation, doctors can refuse to help a terminally ill patient to die, but a hospital cannot opt out of providing the service.
Quebec is the first province to pass such a law. The province argues that doctor-assisted death is an extension of end-of-life care.
When the Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on doctor-assisted death last February, it gave parliamentarians one year to craft a new law.
The Liberal government has asked for a six-month extension on the court's deadline. If granted, government lawmakers would have until August to come up with new legislation.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Jan. 11, as it considers whether to approve Ottawa's request for the extension.
Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Wanda Morris says Tuesday’s court decision is a victory for those suffering with catastrophic diagnoses. She says there will always be people opposed to doctor-assisted dying for ideological reasons.
“My response is it’s a bit like gay marriage: if you don’t want an assisted death, then don’t have one. But how dare these people try to stand in the way of others who are suffering so horribly and just want peace of mind at end of life,” she told CTV News Channel from Vancouver.
She added she feels assured that there are plenty of safeguards in place to protect the vulnerable who might be coerced into having an assisted death.
“There are more safeguards with this than with any other medical treatment,” she said.
A spokesperson for federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the federal government is interested “in a uniform criminal law for all Canadians” and is reviewing the Quebec court’s decision.
“We will continue to work with Quebec, as well as the other provinces and territories, to develop a coordinated approach to physician-assisted dying across the country,” said the spokesperson, Christian Girouard, in a statement.
With files from The Canadian Press