End-of-life bill to be introduced Wednesday in Quebec

Controversial proposed legislation on Quebec citizens' right to die will be introduced today at the province's national assembly.

Ménard commission recommended laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide to government

Jan. 15, 2013: Quebec Junior Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon, right, listened as lawyer and commission head Jean-Pierre Ménard, left commented on a report called "Dying within dignity" at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Controversial proposed legislation on Quebec citizens’ right to die will be introduced tomorrow at the province’s national assembly.

The first reading of the bill, an act respecting end-of-life care, is scheduled for Wednesday just a few days before MNAs break for the summer.

Even if it's completely unopposed, the earliest the bill could be adopted would be late fall.

If the bill passes, the law permitting medically assisted death will be the first of its kind in Canada.

The province’s exploration of the issue began in late 2009, when the national assembly adopted a motion to create a committee to study the issue of medically assisted death, which is currently prohibited by the Criminal Code of Canada.

That resulting bipartisan committee tabled its 175-page report in March 2012 along with a list of 24 recommendations calling for a comprehensive "dying with dignity" law.

In January 2013, a panel of legal experts led by Jean-Pierre Ménard further fleshed out the recommendations in a report, calling on the Quebec government to create clear legislation that not only addressed assisted suicide, but also euthanasia.

The Ménard commission’s 450-page report (available in French here) said that people’s decision-making autonomy should prevail over the interests of the state.

In the report, the legal experts pointed out the medical and legal differences between the concepts of euthanasia, where a doctor would physically cause a patient’s death, and assisted suicide, where the doctor would simply provide the patient with the means to die.

It underlined a 2012 Supreme Court of British Columbia ruling that didn’t distinguish between euthanasia and assisted suicide, interpreting them both as a single process.

The Ménard commission endorsed the same interpretation.

It also went further to recommend improving Quebec’s palliative care laws and including some forms of euthanasia and terminal palliative sedation in Quebec’s end-of-life legislation.

Euthanasia is defined by the report as the intentional ending of someone’s life at their request as a means to end suffering, while terminal palliative care is defined in the report as a form of euthanasia in which a person suffering from a terminal illness could be sedated and have their water and feeding tubes removed.

Four states have "dying with dignity" legislation: Oregon, Washington, Montana and, most recently, Vermont.

Vermont is also the only state where the legislation was initiated by the state government; the other states’ laws came about from public referendum or court decision.

A news conference headed by Véronique Hivon, the minister responsible for the "dying with dignity" file, has been called for 11:15 a.m. Wednesday after question period at the national assembly.