Quebec's top court green lights provincial assisted dying law

Quebec assisted dying law, which had been put on hold by a lower court decision, has been given the green light by the province's top court.

Quebec's terminally ill patients have regained their right to assisted death thanks to a three-judge panel decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal. On Tuesday morning, the panel revoked a Dec. 1 injunction that had been granted by a lower court requested by cerebral palsy patient Lisa D'Amico and doctor Paul J. Saba, joined by the federal government. The injunction had suspended the implementation of the province's assisted dying law, Bill 52, until the corresponding provisions of Canada's Criminal Code were changed.

The Quebec Court of Appeal reversed Ottawa's argument on its head. Instead of going with the theory that the Quebec law infringes on the existing Criminal Code provisions, the province's top court said that because those provisions were struck down by Canada's Supreme Court in its Carter decision in February, the provincial legislation fills a legal void that allows patients to exercise their constitutional right to die with dignity.

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"We believe in this province that society has evolved to a point where citizens have the right to choose," Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette told CBC News.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada congratulates Quebec and commends the three-judge panel for ruling in favour of compassion. 

We commend the Quebec Court of Appeal for its careful consideration of this issue and applaud their decision. This is a truly remarkable day that clears the path forward for Quebec residents to openly request compassionate assistance to die,” said Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Wanda Morris. “There is no longer any legal ambiguity. Health care providers in the province should feel comforted knowing that their government and their top court support this critical health care treatment.”

The rest of Canada eagerly watches 

The rest of Canada will have to wait until January to find out if the Supreme Court of Canada will grant a six-month extension requested by the federal government to delay the February 6 deadline for physician assisted dying. An oral hearing will be held by the Supreme Court on January 11. 

Dying With Dignity Canada opposes any delay to the Supreme Court of Canada’s deadline. Morris believes that today’s decision in Quebec may have implications for the rest of the country in the weeks ahead. “Now that Quebec has received a green light for assisted dying, Canadians who are seriously ill and facing intolerable suffering will be looking to the federal government for answers. Many will wonder why they may have to wait until August to access their constitutional right to die when Quebecers have the right to die today.”

For those with unbearable terminal or chronic illnesses, even a few months could mean the difference between a peaceful death and an enduring, painful nightmare.

The government may say more time is necessary to ensure we have clear and thoughtful legislation for physician assisted dying. But in fact, the prompt recognition of patients’ rights is absolutely not exclusive of well-reasoned laws. That is a false choice — we can have both.

Here’s why: the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada does not require the federal or provincial governments to pass new legislation by February 6. The existing laws and regulations are sufficient to ensure that assisted dying can be administered responsibly. Instead, Ottawa and the provinces must focus on the important work of developing thoughtful, harmonized new rules that allow for timely, equitable access. 


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