Webcast archive: New Québec study

This week, we’re discussing a study from Quebec’s Ministry of Health, about problems with timely access to assisted suicide.

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

  • Québec announces study of access problems for medical aid in dying
  • FAQ: Safeguards Fail – The person must provide informed, written consent

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


  • Following two high-profile cases and the publication of 2016 statistics for Québec’s euthanasia program, the Minister of Health and Social Services Gaetan Barrette announced a study process to potentially expand access to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Mr. Barrette is responding to the killing of Jocelyne Lizotte by her husband after she was deemed ineligible for euthanasia because of Alzheimer’s disease, and the case of Jean Brault, who starved himself in order to qualify for the program.  According to an article in the newspaper Le Devoir, 250 requests for euthanasia, or 37%, were not “completed” in 2016.
  • Minister Barrette said the first step will be for the commission on end-of-life care to examine the requests which were not carried out, with an eye toward broadening the program to facilitate euthanasia in similar cases.
  • The second step will be to designate an expert panel to examine the possibility of allowing advance directives for medical aid in dying.  This is not currently permitted under Québec’s statute, though an expert panel recommended in 2013 that the practice be allowed.
  • The final step, according to Mr. Barrette, will be an inquiry to the courts to settle the differences between the federal and provincial laws, especially on the requirement that the person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable.”  Not only must “reasonably foreseeable” be clearly defined, it must also be reconciled with Québec’s requirement that the person be at the “end of life” in order to qualify for euthanasia.
  • This undertaking reflects the assumption that euthanasia should be available to the largest possible number of people who request it, in the shortest possible time, without considering other options.  It also uses the administrative arm of government to undo the legislative compromise that was reached; to allow euthanasia only when certain strict criteria are met.  It is not surprising, however, since many supporters of euthanasia stated openly that they would be pushing for expansion once the law was in effect.


  • Information about diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options given by doctors is often incorrect.  We all know someone who has beaten the odds.
  • Providing information about alternatives to assisted suicide or euthanasia (such as palliative care) is not the same as making sure the person gets the necessary services to make those options a reality.
  • Laws don’t require doctors to tell the person about home care to help with activities of daily living or home modifications for accessibility.  Few doctors know or even think about these elements of life outside the hospital.
  • Information is rarely made available in accessible formats for people with sensory impairments.  Family members or friends who interpret for the person are often unqualified and biased.  Doctors’ hurried and technical explanations cannot be understood by many people with intellectual disabilities or who are under heavy medication.
  • No laws require that the person asking to die talk to people living happily with that disability.  Nor is this a widespread practice.
  • Third parties are allowed to fill out the form requesting assisted suicide or euthanasia for those who cannot write.  Many laws do not prohibit these third parties from being heirs or otherwise interested.  Often a family member or caregiver serves as interpreter if the person making the request has trouble speaking.  This poses a serious danger when that relative has a financial interest in the person’s death.