Introduction

Webcast archive: Delay of Québec’s euthanasia program appealed

This week, we discuss the appeal of the delay of Québec’s euthanasia program.

Webcast archive: Delay of Québec’s euthanasia program appealed

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • A judge grants leave to appeal the delay of Québec’s euthanasia program
  • The federal justice minister asks for a six month delay to adopt legislation pursuant to the Carter decision
  • 2015 year in review

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

A JUDGE GRANTS LEAVE TO APPEAL THE DELAY OF QUÉBEC’S EUTHANASIA PROGRAM

  • In a decision rendered on December 9, an appeals judge allowed the appeal of the a December 1 Superior Court decision that declared inoperative articles or the Medical Aid in Dying law that relate to euthanasia, until a federal law is written.
  • In his decision, the judge said suspending the sections in question would prevent some citizens from having euthanasia.  He said the case raises several questions of constitutional law, notably those related to the division of powers and fundamental rights and freedoms.
  • The appeal will be heard by three judges of the Court of Appeal on December 18.
  • This means that the euthanasia provisions of the Law respecting end of life care came into effect on December 10, and will remain so until the Court of Appeal rules on them.
  • Though some Québec doctors remain concerned that performing euthanasia may put them in legal jeopardy, Health Minister Gaetan Barrette has assured them that they will not be prosecuted.  However Minister Barrette does not speak for the federal government, whose criminal law would be violated if a doctor performed euthanasia.
  • The opinion of the superior court, that “medical aid in dying” is nothing more than euthanasia, will be looked at in the appeal as well.
  • Thanks to Living with Dignity for help in preparing this update

THE FEDERAL JUSTICE MINISTER ASKS FOR A SIX MONTH DELAY TO ADOPT LEGISLATION PURSUANT TO THE CARTER DECISION

  • The federal minister of justice / attorney general of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, announced on December 3 that her office has asked the Supreme Court of Canada for a six month extension to draft and adopt legislation pursuant to the February 6, 2015 Carter decision.
  • This would give the Trudeau government until August 6, 2016 to pass legislation to regulate assisted suicide.
  • The government proposes to establish an all-party special committee to make recommendations on a federal government response.  This committee will draw from the work of the federal expert panel, the Colleges of physicians, the Québec study process and other sources to draft legislation.
  • There’s no word from the Supreme Court as to whether they will grant the extension, but chances are they will.

2015 YEAR IN REVIEW

  • This was a difficult year to be an opponent of assisted suicide and euthanasia, with more defeats than victories, and the need to change our orientation.
  • On February 6, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the sections of Canada’s criminal code that prohibit assisted suicide.  The court stated that physician assisted death should be available to people with “irremediable medical conditions,” (including disabilities) that cause enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to the person in his circumstances.
  • The court gave Parliament one year, until February 6, 2016 to come up with a law to regulate physician assisted death, whether assisted suicide or euthanasia. This was a very broad decision, creating the opening for a law with the widest scope in the world.  The court does not limit eligibility to persons with a just few months to live, and it allows euthanasia or assisted suicide for people who are capable of committing suicide unaided, or whose “suffering” is purely psychological. The federal government remained silent on the issue until July 17 when it appointed an expert panel to develop recommendations for parliament to regulate the new program.  However with the election call on August 4, the official work of the panel was suspended.
    With a new government following the October 19 elections, the panel’s mandate was changed to merely “collect input” from stakeholders on the issue.  Thus the panel’s report, due on December 15, will probably have little impact on any proposed legislation to be drafted next year.
  • For advocates, this was a year of shifting our orientation and approach.  We needed to allow for participation in the process of crafting safeguards, considering what protections would be most effective and likely to be accepted, and deciding on negotiation strategies and tactics.
  • In February we reported on the death of Gabriel Bouchard, a Montreal resident who refused medical treatment while he starved himself to death.  In an interview, Mr. Bouchard stated that if he’d had a revenue sufficient to live on, an adapted apartment, and aides who received a living wage, he probably would not have wanted to die.
  • The silence from the federal government during the spring was echoed in Québec, where regulations to implement the law concerning end of life care didn’t begin to appear until mid-July, less than six months before the law would come into effect.  The regulations that were issued covered only a thin slice of the activities covered by the bill.  The practice guide issued by the College of Physicians in September left many of the same questions unanswered.
    • What does “end of life” mean?
    • What formal protections exist before the person is euthanized?
    • How can the program be tracked if euthanasia deaths are attributed to from other causes, and records are only kept for five years?
  • A decision in Québec’s Superior Court on December 1, 2015 challenged the use of the term “medical aid in dying” while declaring the euthanasia provision of Québec’s law inoperative until the federal government adopts a new law governing these practices. However an appeals court judge, in granting an appeal of this decision, fully reinstated Québec’s statute, which went into effect on schedule on December 10
  • News from elsewhere this year:
    • Advocates in the UK celebrated a great victory on September 11 when the house of Commons resoundingly rejected an assisted suicide bill.
    • Not Dead Yet UK actively opposed versions of the bill in the common and in the house of Lords.  NDYers contacted MPs with letters, emails and videos, challenging not just the assisted suicide bill, but also the negative messages in the media about people with disabilities as “scroungers.”  As the media and the public came around, so did the MPs.  The bill was defeated as “just too dangerous.” This followed a solid defeat of an assisted suicide bill in the Scottish parliament.
    • In the United States, a legislative manoeuver revived an assisted suicide bill in California, skipping over the committee process and bringing it directly to the floor of the Assembly for a vote in early September.  Despite intense efforts, the chambers of the assembly passed, and governor Gerry Brown signed the law in early September.  In this way, 38 million people are now subject to a largely unexamined assisted suicide bill.

ANNOUNCEMENT: We will take a winter break and return with our webcast on January 15, 2016.  Follow our Facebook page for updates during the break.  Happy New Year.