Introduction

Webcast archive: Euthanasia law in Québec

This week, we discuss the new euthanasia law in Quebec.

Webcast archive: Euthanasia law in Québec

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

  • The euthanasia law comes into effect in Québec
  • The Provincial Expert Panel recommends allowing assisted suicide to children/people with dementia
  • The Supreme Court of Canada postpones its decision on delaying the Carter deadline
  • Ottawa names a committee of MPs and senators to craft an assisted suicide law
  • Death of Kevin Fitzpatrick

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

THE EUTHANASIA LAW COMES INTO EFFECT IN QUÉBEC

  • After an unsuccessful challenge, Québec’s euthanasia law came into effect on schedule in December
  • A group of activists challenged the law, saying that because the federal prohibition on assisted suicide was still in effect until February 6, 2016, Québec’s statute violated federal criminal law.
  • A superior court judge agreed, saying that “Medical aid in dying” was nothing more than a euphemism for euthanasia.
  • However before the December 10 deadline, an appeals judge granted leave to appeal, thus suspending the lower court’s ruling.
  • Ultimately the appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling.  The court said Québec’s law could be looked at again once the federal government passed a new law governing medical killing.
  • Today we learned that the first euthanasia has been carried out in Québec.  Few details are available, except for the fact that it was done in a hospital.

THE PROVINCIAL EXPERT PANEL RECOMMENDS ALLOWING ASSISTED SUICIDE TO CHILDREN, PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA

  • The provincial expert panel published its report on December 14, and as expected, it recommended wide latitude for medical killing.
  • Perhaps the most dramatic recommendation was that it opened the door to allowing assisted suicide to adolescents, saying that “arbitrary age limits” were meaningless.
  • It also proposed that people with Alzheimer disease or other forms of dementia should be able to request assisted suicide or euthanasia via advance directives.
  • The committee stated that no waiting period should be required, because the approval process created sufficient delay.
  • The panel also determined that non-religious hospices should not be exempt from the requirement to administer euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Apparently the principles of palliative care, to neither accelerate nor delay natural death, did not carry sufficient weight with the panel to exempt hospices that adhered to these principles.
  • The group also stated that video-based assessments would be sufficient in determining eligibility where there weren’t enough doctors to provide a timely physical examination.
  • The committee said that nurses and physicians assistants should be empowered to administer euthanasia and assisted suicide, which expands the pool of those who can do the act, and eliminates the problems of doctors who do not want to kill their patients on principle.
  • The panel further allowed that assisted suicide could be done at home.
  • As so often happens, the committee’s recommendations guarantee assisted suicide and euthanasia, but not palliative care, in-home supports.
  • Further, the safeguards are designed to protect health professionals from liability rather than individuals from medical errors and negligence, or from coercion or social pressures.
  • The report of the Federal expert panel has not been made public yet, one month after it was handed in.

THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA POSTPONES DECISION ON DELAYING THE CARTER DEADLINE

  • The attorney general of Canada, with the support of advocacy groups including the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association of Community Living, has applied for a six-month extension on the deadline of the Carter decision.  The judgment, which struck down the federal law prohibiting assisted suicide, is supposed to come into effect on February 6.
  • Arguments were heard before the Supreme Court on January 11.  The court is considering the request and is expected to rule before February 6.

OTTAWA NAMES A COMMITTEE OF MPS AND SENATORS TO CRAFT AN ASSISTED SUICIDE LAW

  • Meanwhile the Trudeau government has named a committee of MPs and Senators who will draft legislation governing medical killing.  The Committee includes eight Liberals, six Conservatives and two members of the NDP.  The members are:
    • Senators
      • James Cowan (Liberal)
      • Serge Joyal (Liberal)
      • Nancy Ruth (Conservative)
      • Kelvin Ogilvie (Conservative)
      • Judith Seidman (Conservative)
    • MPs:
      • John Aldag, (Liberal Cloverdale-Langley City)
      • Rene Arseneault (Liberal Madawaska-Restigouche)
      • Steven Blaney (Conservative Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Levis)
      • Michael Cooper (Conservative St. Albert-Edmonton)
      • Julie Dabrusin (Liberal Toronto-Danforth)
      • Denis Lemieux (Liberal Chicoutimi-Le Fjord)
      • Robert Oliphant (Liberal Don Valley West)
      • Murray Rankin (NDP Victoria)
      • Brigitte Sansoucy (NDP Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot)
      • Brenda Shanahan (Liberal Chateauguay-Lacolle)
      • Mark Warawa (Conservative Langley-Aldergrove)
  • Besides looking at the report of the expert panels and meeting with stakeholder groups, it’s unclear what sources the Committee will use to inform the legislative process.  We will keep you up to date as we know more.

ONE FINAL NOTE

  • Our friend and colleague Kevin Fitzpatrick died last night. This is a huge loss for the movement, as Kevin was one of the most articulate opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the world.  We will miss Kevin’s long, philosophical emails, his most excellent and irreverent sense of humour, his warmth and charm that made one feel deeply cared for, and his frankness.