Quebec's Court of Appeal has maintained the province's right to allow terminally ill patients the choice to die with medical help, the first law of its kind in Canada.

This morning, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel overturned a Dec. 1 Quebec Superior Court judgment aimed at suspending implementation of the province's law, Bill 52, until certain provisions of the Criminal Code were changed.

In the ruling, the Court of Appeal said the Quebec law doesn't contravene sections of the Criminal Code related to assisted dying because they were struck down by Canada's Supreme Court last February.

It said the provincial legislation fills a judicial void by allowing patients to exercise their rights granted to them by Canada's top court.

'We will continue to work with Quebec, as well as the other provinces and territories, to develop a co-ordinated approach to physician-assisted dying across the country.'
- Jody Wilson-Raybould, federal justice minister

The Court of Appeal also urged the federal government to develop federal legislation "that would apply in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada."

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette told CBC News the court decision shows that the province "has been respectful of the current legislation.

"We're offering citizens of this province a continuum of options and that's the very essence of the bill," he said.


Véronique Hivon was emotional when reacting to the Supreme Court judgment on medically assisted suicide last February. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

"We believe in this province that society has evolved to a point where citizens have the right to choose."

The Quebec law, which was passed by a large margin in Quebec's National Assembly in June 2014, has been in effect since Dec. 10 while the court was considering an appeal from a group of physicians and others.

Véronique Hivon, the Parti Québécois MNA who introduced the bill when her party was in power, said the legislation was a non-partisan effort.

"Today is an emotional day," she said. "We are really seen as a leader. Other provinces, even the federal government, are really consulting with Quebec, looking very seriously at our legislation."

Palliative care should be priority, critics say

Those in favour of the temporary blocking of the end-of-life legislation argued that medically assisted death should be considered a criminal act until the federal government changes those provisions deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

They also tried to argue that medical help in dying infringes on the right to life enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

'Euthanasia is not medical care': Dr. Paul Saba4:59

"Nobody should be euthanized," Dr. Paul Saba, a family physician and president of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice, which led the legal fight against the law, said last week. "What they call medical aid in dying, well, is shortening somebody's life. The way of treating somebody's life is not by ending life, but palliative care."

Federal government to draw 'inspiration' from Quebec law

The new federal Liberal government is seeking a six-month extension on the Supreme Court of Canada's deadline which, if granted, would give it until August to come up with a new law.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement saying the government is reviewing the details of the decision. 

"We recognize the leadership that Quebec has demonstrated in developing its own legislation on physician-assisted dying," the statement reads. 

"We will continue to work with Quebec, as well as the other provinces and territories, to develop a co-ordinated approach to physician-assisted dying across the country."

The Supreme Court will hold an oral hearing on Jan. 11 as it considers Ottawa's request for the extension.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month that the federal government will draw "inspiration" from Quebec's legislation as it drafts new federal laws.

Olivier Duchesneau said Trudeau appreciates the "incredible work" done by Quebec's National Assembly on the sensitive issue, and praised Quebec parliamentarians for putting partisanship aside to reach consensus.

The national organization Dying With Dignity Canada welcomed Tuesday's decision. 

CEO Wanda Morris said she's hopeful provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, as well as the federal government, will follow Quebec's lead and introduce similar legislation.

With files from CBC's Jaela Bernstien and The Canadian Press