Federal doctor-assisted dying bill would have allowed Quebec man to end life sooner

Jean Brault, who suffered from a debilitating handicap, went 53 days without eating and eight days without water before he qualified for medically assisted death.

Bill C-14 sets out broader criteria than Quebec's law on who would be eligible for medical aid to die

Jean Brault died on April 7, 2016 after years of trying to access a medically assisted death. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec man who starved himself in order to qualify for doctor-assisted death would have been able to legally end his life sooner under new proposed federal legislation.

Jean Brault, 61, who suffered from a debilitating handicap, went 53 days without eating and eight days without water before he qualified for medical assisted death.

"This bill, the way it is designed, would have allowed him to have access to assisted suicide. That's my interpretation of the clinical situation of that man,"  Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said Thursday.

Brault, who lived in Sherbrooke, Que. legally ended his life on April 7, after years of thwarted suicide attempts.

Barrette applauded the proposed legislation on doctor-assisted death tabled in Parliament today, nearly four months after the province's landmark end-of-life care law went into effect.

"All the aspects of Quebec's law about end-of-life care, everything we have in Quebec, is transposed into the federal bill," he said.

The long-awaited federal bill, C-14, lays out the criteria under which Canadians would be able to seek medical help to die, limiting that right to mentally competent adults with a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability.

It also sets out safeguards to protect vulnerable Canadians.

C-14 broadens eligibility 

Last December, Quebec's Court of Appeal upheld provincial Bill 52, also known as an act respecting end-of-life care, which was passed by the Quebec National Assembly in June 2014, allowing terminally ill patients to seek medical help to die.

If passed as tabled, the federal bill would make more Quebecers eligible for doctor-assisted death.

"They are going a bit further than we are. They are allowing access to assisted suicide but in specific situations that are related to health problems," Barrette said.

In Quebec, the law allows for and outlines under which conditions terminally ill Quebecers can request to receive medical aid in dying.

The main indicator for requesting medical aid in dying is "an incurable disease, an incurable illness, which is causing unbearable suffering."

Barrette and Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée say once C-14 is passed, the federal criteria would also apply to Quebec, since they would be enshrined in Canada's Criminal Code.

with files from Benjamin Shingler