Quebec's assisted dying law will proceed as scheduled, pending Appeal Court hearing

Quebec will go ahead with its medically assisted dying law tomorrow, as planned, after Quebec's highest court agreed to hear an appeal of the Superior Court decision which suspended the law.

Quebec's highest court to hear arguments on Dec. 18 after province appeals suspension of right-to-die law

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said Quebec's health system is ready to begin implementing the province's medically assisted death statutes on Dec. 10. (Chris Kreussling)

Quebec will go ahead with its medically assisted dying law tomorrow, as planned. 

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette confirmed that will happen after a decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal Wednesday afternoon.

"Bill [52], as we know it, will go into effect starting tomorrow, Dec. 10," Barrette said.

Barrette said the law will remain in effect at least until Dec. 18, when the Court of Appeal will hear arguments from all sides on last week's decision by the Quebec Superior Court which suspended key aspects of the new law.

Quebec government lawyers had sought permission to appeal that decision by Justice Michel Pinsonnault, who ruled the law contradicts provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code when it comes to medically assisted suicide.

"The ruling that we have received today is a ruling that states that the decision [to suspend the law]... is suspended. That means that as of tomorrow, Bill [52] will be implemented fully," Barrette said.

Quebec's legislation was adopted 94-22 by members of the province's National Assembly in June 2014. There were no abstentions. 

Quebec is ready: Barrette

Barrette offered assurances that Quebec's health system is ready to implement doctor-assisted dying.

"I want to assure the population and [professional medical staff] that all the steps are in place for it to happen," he said.

"I want to reassure the population that in terms of access on all kinds of end-of-life care, we're ready."

The health minister also said Quebec's law is in line with Canada's Criminal Code. 

Responsibility to protect

Prior to Barrette's confirmation that Quebec would move ahead with putting Bill 52 into effect, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that care had to be taken to ensure that Canadian law is respected.

"It's important that we do it right. It is also important that we respect the law and respect the protection of peoples' lives, and that is what we're going to do," Trudeau said.

"We want to deal with this in a responsible way, and we're working with Quebec to ensure that happens."

'The will of the people has not been heard'

Barrette and Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée have both argued the law is perfectly valid.

Following the Superior Court ruling last week, Vallée said the provincial law has nothing to do with the Criminal Code — it's about health care.

"We think the will of the people has not been heard at this time," Barrette said earlier.

On Wednesday, Vallée sought to reassure the province's doctors that they would be protected if they help patients to die.

Vallée said Quebec's director of penal and criminal prosecutions would be ordered to respect the wishes of people at the end of their lives who request a medically assisted death.

The Quebec-based Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice and Lisa D'Amico, a disabled woman, had sought an injunction from the Quebec Superior Court to prevent Bill 52 from taking effect on Dec. 10.  

Justice Pinsonnault didn't issue the injunction, however. He based his ruling on the federal government's argument that Quebec's law is superceded by the federal Criminal Code provisions which make medically assisted dying illegal.

Those Criminal Code provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court ruling last February. In an unanimous decision, the court ruled in the Carter decision that Canadians with unbearable suffering should be allowed to end their lives with the aid of a physician, and it gave Parliament one year to enact new laws. 

That year will be up next Feb. 6. Ottawa has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to give it another six months to make the changes.

Better palliative care needed, group says

Paul Saba, head of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice, told CBC the province 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,"  he said last week.


  • An earlier version of the story stated that Quebec's legislation was adopted unanimously. In fact, it passed 94-22.
    Dec 09, 2015 8:44 PM ET

with files from The Canadian Press


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