A controversial bill was introduced in Quebec today to give people in the province the right to die with the help of a doctor.
The bill, called 'An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care', sets out specific conditions for someone to get medical help to die, as well as conditions for a doctor to get involved.
Right now, assisted suicide and euthanasia are both illegal in this country.
The bill in Quebec is an attempt to essentially get around the Criminal Code, and if it passes, it would be the first of its kind in Canada.
As the Globe & Mail reports, under the bill...
Any person of sound mind can at any time "refuse to receive or withdraw consent to a life-sustaining treatment or procedure."
And that person cannot be denied end-of-life care if they refused to receive a treatment or procedure before.
"Respect for end-of-life patients and recognition of their rights and freedoms must inspire every act performed in their regard," the bill says.
"End of life patients must be treated, at all times, with the understanding, compassion, courtesy and fairness, and with respect for their dignity, autonomy, needs and safety."
This requires "open and transparent communications" at all times by the health care providers with the patient, the bill says.
Quebec Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon at a news conference on the province's right to die legislation
In March of last year, a non-partisan report on the issue came out based on consultations with Quebecers for nearly two years.
It found that doctors should be allowed, in exceptional circumstances, to help terminally ill people die if that person asks for help.
The report made 24 recommendations, including a comprehensive "dying with dignity" law and an overhaul of Quebec's "end-of-life" care services.
This past January, a panel of Quebec legal experts concluded this is a health care issue and health care is a provincial matter, so the federal government won't need to get involved.
The panel called on the Quebec government to create legislation that makes it clear how an act to end someone's life is different from suicide.
- Under the recommendations, a patient would have to ask a doctor for help themselves in writing.
- The person would have to be terminally ill and in serious, unbearable physical or psychological pain.
- Two doctors would have to approve the request.
- Doctors would not face criminal charges in these circumstances.
The panel also said that a person's personal decision should take precedent over the interests of the state.
Lawyer Jean-Pierre Menard, who led the panel, said "the main issue here is to make (sure) the patient's consent is free, is well informed, from someone who is competent to give instruction."
Lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard and Quebec Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon at a news conference in January
As many as 500 doctors oppose the bill, arguing that assisted suicide isn't medical care and goes against medical ethics.
One of them told CBC News he's not convinced the government can be sure someone is competent enough to give consent.
"It's unavoidable that undetected depression, undetected mental problems, personal distress will go on and people will die by accident," said Dr. Marc Beauchamp of the Physicians' Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.
"People will die by mistake," he said.
Another doctor, who specializes in geriatrics, said she's concerned some of her patients could be convinced to end their lives unnecessarily.
"It would be very easy to push someone like that into saying 'well yes, I've had enough, my life is too hard and I would rather die,'" said Dr. Catherine Ferrier of Montreal General Hospital.
"It's just too simple to cut things short because there's a moment of discouragement, of despair," she said.
The legislation received first reading today, before Quebec politicians break for the summer. It's expected to be debated in the fall.
Via The Globe & Mail