A palliative care centre in Sherbrooke, Que., is poised to become the first facility to provide access to doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

The CEO of la Maison Aube-Lumière, Elizabeth Brière, said the centre will begin offering the service on Feb. 1, 2016, five days before the ban on doctor-assisted suicide is lifted outside of Quebec.

In Quebec, the right to end one's life with a doctor's help will take effect in December 2015.

The centre's staff voted 61 per cent in favour of offering the service. Its board of governors voted unanimously in favour.

Change of heart

As recently as last May, management at the centre said doctor-assisted suicide would not be permitted at the hospice. Last September, however, it pledged to revisit the subject. The decision to allow medically assisted death came from the findings of that investigation.

La Maison Aube-Lumière

The CEO of La Maison Aube-Lumière, Elizabeth Brière, says medically assisted death will be available only in exceptional situations. (Renée Beaudoin/Radio-Canada)

Brière said doctor-assisted suicide will be for "exceptional" cases only. For instance, only cancer patients will be granted permission. Doctors with moral qualms will not be forced to provide the service. 

"This decision required discussions, reflections and internal consultation," said Brière. 

She said the centre had no pressure from Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette to offer the service.

Training for doctors and staff will begin this month. La Maison Aube-Lumière will develop internal protocols for providing doctor-assisted suicide in December and January.

Advocates applaud leadership

Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada, said the centre's about-face on providing medically assisted suicide is indicative of changing public perception.

"We've seen a phenomenal change in Canada in attitudes towards assisted dying," she said.

Although she would like to see the service extended to people with diagnoses other than cancer, she said she supports the centre's leadership. 

"I'm a particular fan of how Quebec has been able to balance the rights of patients with the rights of physicians," she said.