Webcast archive: Québec’s euthanasia program after one year

Today, we take a look at the first year of euthanasia in Quebec.

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

  • Québec’s euthanasia program after one year
  • Ottawa commits to adopt the CRPD Optional Protocol

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


  • December 10 will mark one year since Québec’s euthanasia program came into effect.  Today we’ll talk a little about how the media and the government have tried to shape public opinion about the law.
  • Much of the information for our program today was provided by Aubert Martin, Executive Director of Living with Dignity, a citizen network whose mission is to protect the life and the inherent dignity of people who have become vulnerable through illness, old age, or disability, by ensuring they receive compassionate support.
  • Québec’s euthanasia law was passed on June 6, 2014 after a four-year process of gathering public opinion and pushing a bill through the National Assembly.  During the public consultation, a majority of people said that assisted suicide and euthanasia were a bad idea.  However when the report was issued by the committee on the question of dying with dignity, it recommended a program of euthanasia.
  • The law that was finally approved said that hospices and palliative care units would not be forced to perform euthanasia, since that would violate the principle of palliative care to neither accelerate nor delay natural death.
  • Some important events and media articles this year include:
    • June 29, 2016: although there was no complaint, the media singled out for criticism the McGill University Health Centre’s Palliative Care Unit for transferring a patient in order to be euthanized. Quebec’s Health Minister said that he wanted to “quell the resistance”.
    • June 30, 2016: the work of many physicians is criticized by the oversight Commission on End of Life Care, stating that in some cases, doctors have not met the criteria that the patient be at the end of life.
    • July 4, 2016: the McGill University Health Centre is officially forced to euthanize patients who request euthanasia within its palliative care unit.
    • July 7, 2016:  Six months after the law came into force, there have been 253 requests and 166 euthanasia.
    • July 13, 2016: the Quebec government adopts new ministerial directives to bring the practice of euthanasia in Quebec in line with the new Federal law.
    • August 17, 2016: Quebec’s Minister of Health launches another public attack against a hospice refusing to provide euthanasia within its walls.
    • August 30, 2016: the media report that an increasing number of Quebecers are killing themselves by refusing food or fluids because they are ineligible for euthanasia.
    • September 9, 2016: the Quebec oversight Commission is criticized for asking doctors for too much information after the death of their patients by euthanasia.
    • September 19, 2016: the Commission’s impartiality is questioned because some of its members were “not in favour” of euthanasia.
    • September 21, 2016: Quebec’s Minister of Health warns Quebec doctors who would follow Federal Law C-14 that they will are responsible for any legal consequences that may arise.
    • October 21, 2016: one member of the oversight Commission explains that the arrival of euthanasia exposes the Quebec palliative care community to a great risk of “division and implosion” because of the growing pressure to include euthanasia in its care settings.
    • October 27, 2016: In its nine month report, the Commission announced that 262 Quebecers were euthanized as of September 1st.  Only 148 of those cases had been examined and ruled on by the Commission; three people were found to have been ineligible for euthanasia.
  • Ideas that appear regularly in the media coverage of euthanasia in Québec:
    • Euthanasia is preferable to natural death.
    • Refused requests are always shocking.
    • Physicians in palliative care hospices are cruel and resistant to change when they refuse to kill their patients.
    • Doctors who practice euthanasia are heroes of the heart.
    • People who choose to die by euthanasia are heroes,
      • masters of their fate;
      • People and their families are always in agreement about the decision to die;
      • The medical team is always in perfect harmony with the family and the patient.
    • The criteria of the law are too stringent.
    • Every precautionary measure is an obstacle to accessibility.
  • Meanwhile cuts to direct services in nursing homes and home care result in poor quality care and inhumane conditions for people receiving those services.


  • The Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, announced on December 1 that the Government of Canada has begun a consultation process on Canada’s accession to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Optional Protocol).
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) protects and promotes the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities without discrimination and on an equal basis with others.
  • Provinces and territories have an important role to play in considering Canada’s possible accession to the Optional Protocol, and consultations are currently taking place with them on this matter. The process will also involve talks with Indigenous governments that may be implicated, as well as Indigenous organizations and civil society.
  • The announcement came at a press conference held during a meeting of disability advocates working on a report to the Canadian Government on progress on implementing the CRPD.
  • Canada ratified the CRPD in 2010. Parties to the convention are required to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities.
  • The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the convention by states parties (countries whose governments have ratified the convention). States parties to the convention are expected to submit reports to the committee every four years, with an initial report due two years following ratification. Canada submitted its initial report in February 2014, and will appear before the committee in the spring of 2017.
  • The Optional Protocol gives people with disabilities a new safeguard for their rights by establishing two procedures aimed at strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the convention.
    • The first is a complaint procedure that allows individuals and groups to bring petitions to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities claiming that their rights under the convention have been violated.
    • The second is an inquiry procedure that gives the Committee authority to investigate allegations of grave or systematic violations of the provisions of the convention by a state party.
  • The Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN in 2006 and entered into force in 2008. As of November 2016, there are 92 states parties to the protocol.