Gaétan Barrette insists dying patients must get help to ease suffering

Terminally ill patients in Quebec who seek medical aid in dying must be provided with the service even if some doctors are against it, Quebec's health minister says.

Quebec's right-to-die law comes into effect on Dec. 10

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says patients "will be the priority" when the province's right-to-die legislation comes into effect. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Terminally ill patients in Quebec who seek medical aid in dying must be provided with the service even if some doctors are against it, Quebec's health minister said Wednesday.

Gaétan Barrette called out unco-operative doctors and directors of institutions in the province's health care network Wednesday after a palliative care unit in Montreal announced it wouldn't offer the service.

Quebec's right-to-die law comes into effect on Dec. 10 and Barrette says the patient will be the priority.

"The role of (medical) institutions is to offer the service,'' he said. "And it will be offered."

Only certain terminally ill people will receive the legal right to seek medical aid in dying and the strict law states those patients must be at death's door and suffering.

The health minister declared that hospitals with palliative care units as well as palliative care homes must conform with the law and offer medical assistance to dying patients who ask for it.

Barrette says that on an individual basis, a doctor could invoke an objection of conscience and refuse to shorten the life of a sick person.

But he insists that the institution must respond to the request and find another doctor willing to offer the service.

"It's the patient that will be the priority," he said. "Not the doctor, not the institution. The entire process is centred around the patient. It's up to us to adapt to the patient."

Barrette says several polls taken in recent years indicated the vast majority of doctors polled agreed with the law.

Doctors in the palliative care unit of the hospital network tied to Université de Montréal said recently they didn't want to offer medical aid in dying.

Barrette said the doctors were not the "owners" of the institution, which had to conform to the law.

He said the doctors' attitudes were "inappropriate and unfortunate."

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