Montreal

Focus should be on palliative care, not medically assisted dying, Quebec doctor says

The head of the Quebec-based doctors' coalition that contested the provincial law that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical help says the government needs to do more to provide care for its citizens — rather than help them die.

Quebec government says it will appeal Superior Court ruling delaying end-of-life law

Paul Saba of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice says improved care should be the priority, not end-of-life legislation. (CBC)

The head of the Quebec-based doctors' coalition that contested the provincial law that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical help says the government needs to do more to provide care for its most vulnerable citizens — rather than help them die.

"True caring is providing people with the care they need and not a lethal injection," Paul Saba of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Wednesday.

Saba said the real issue is a lack of adequate palliative care in the Quebec.

"I have patients who say all the time, 'I want to die, I want to die.' But most of those patients who say that, it's because they are not getting care," he said.

Saba and Lisa D'Amico, a woman living with life-threatening disabilities, brought the question of the legality of Quebec's medically assisted dying law to the Quebec Superior Court last week.

On Tuesday, Justice Michel Pinsonnault ruled that law, which would allow some terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical help, cannot take effect on Dec. 10, as planned. 

The Quebec government announced it would appeal the Superior Court decision. 

'Breaking the law'

Catherine McKenzie, a lawyer with Irving Mitchell Kalichman, told Daybreak the ruling means the provincial law will be suspended until Feb. 6, 2016. On that date last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians with unbearable suffering should be allowed to end their lives with the aid of a physician, and gave Parliament one year to enact new laws. 

In his ruling Tuesday, Pinsonnault said until the anniversary date of that Supreme Court ruling, Criminal Code provisions which make euthanasia illegal still stand.

McKenzie said doctors "administering death would be breaking the law in accordance with this [Quebec Superior Court] judgment."

For her part, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the Quebec Superior Court erroneously drew a parallel between medical aid in dying and euthanasia.

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says "there's a clear difference between euthanasia and medical aid in dying." (CBC)
"There's a clear difference between euthanasia and medical aid in dying. Medical aid in dying is a [form of] health care, and it's one of [the forms of] health care that is defined in the act," she said shortly after the ruling was made public Tuesday.

"This falls within the continuum of health care."

Quebec could serve as federal model

The eventual outcome in Quebec is likely to help shape federal legislation.

Olivier Duchesneau, a spokesman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said the federal government will draw "inspiration" from Quebec's legislation on doctor-assisted death as it drafts new federal laws around the emotionally charged issue

The Liberal government has not yet confirmed if it will ask the top court for an extension beyond the February deadline. Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Tuesday it's under "serious consideration." 

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