Quebec to study advance requests for assisted dying, health minister says

Dying With Dignity Canada is cautiously optimistic about Quebec’s decision to look at allowing residents with dementia and other capacity-eroding conditions the option to consent in advance for medical assistance in dying.

At a press conference on Friday, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette revealed that the province will create an expert panel to study the issue of advance requests for assisted dying. He said details about the study will be revealed in the coming weeks.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) welcomes the health minister’s announcement and is encouraging the Quebec government to show a strong commitment to respecting the end-of-life rights of residents with dementia.

“At the moment, assisted dying rules in Canada provide little comfort for individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia and who want to make a request for assisted dying in advance, while they are still of sound mind,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “We’re pleased the Quebec government plans to study this injustice, and we urge the province to seize the opportunity to provide real choice for Quebecers who’ve been discriminated against under the current system.”

Gokool also called on the Quebec government to give the expert panel a strong mandate that “shows a clear commitment to respecting the end-of-life rights of Quebecers with dementia.” The committee, she said, should be required to hold consultations with individuals whose right to choice is at stake and to provide provincial lawmakers with clear recommendations for legislation.

Barrette’s statement comes less than four months after the federal government announced it would launch a series of independent studies into Ottawa’s assisted dying law. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has been tasked to investigate how Bill C-14’s eligibility criteria could be amended to include three groups who don’t currently qualify for access: mature minors; individuals whose primary medical condition is a mental illness; and Canadians who will continue to be excluded unless the law is changed to allow for advance requests for assisted dying. However, the federal government is not asking for legislative recommendations, raising questions about its commitment to bringing the country’s assisted dying rules in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During his Friday news conference, Barrette also said the province’s End-of-Life Commission, which monitors the practice of assisted dying in the province, will be called on to report on the reasons why Quebecers who made unsuccessful requests for assisted dying were denied access. This is a positive step, Gokool said, because the data could provide helpful clues on how provincial and federal rules could be improved.

Quebec, Gokool noted, has a history of leadership on the assisted dying file, having passed its own right-to-die law two years before Bill C-14 came into effect. “Quebec has a track record of asking tough questions about how we, as a society, can afford compassion and choice to Canadians facing intolerable suffering.

“We ask them to bring these discussions into the realm of action, and we encourage the rest of Canada to follow suit.”

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