Doctor-assisted suicides may soon be legal in Quebec

Photo from Pink Sherbet Photography.

By Jacey Gibb, Assistant Editor

Supporters of doctor-assisted suicide in Canada received a boost of hope last week when the recently elected minority Parti Quebecois government in Quebec announced that it would be putting forward a bill to legalize euthanasia as early as next spring.

The proposed bill, which was a part of the Parti Quebecois’ platform during the most recent provincial election, comes as a result of recommendations made by the province’s Special Commission on Dying with Dignity. Founded in 1982, Dying with Dignity Canada is a member-based charity that works on “improving individuals’ quality of dying and expanding Canadians’ end-of-life choices.”

If the bill passes, individuals would still have to meet certain requirements before they may receive “medical aid in dying.” The patient must be suffering from a “serious and incurable disease,” have “no prospects of improvement,” be able to personally request medical assistance in dying, and must be a resident of Quebec.

“We’re really talking about people who have unbearable suffering and who have no chance of improving their quality of life and whose death is really going to happen,” says Véronique Hivon, the province’s Junior Minister of Social Services and a supporter of the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide.

The proposal already faces a potentially power opponent though, as the federal government has a firm stance against doctor-assisted suicide via the criminal code. But Hivon is optimistic that the province will be able to move ahead without federal obstructions. “Quebec has jurisdiction over health and also over professional qualifications. So this gives us the confidence to introduce this medical aid in dying in our bill.” The province does not have any power over the criminal code or the laws that the code enforces.

Another challenge facing the bill is the organization Vivre dans la Dignité , or Living with Dignity. The group has raised questions about how much support doctor-assisted suicide has within the Quebecer population and over whether Dying with Dignity was misleading during their public report. The independent analysis showed that “those who apparently favoured euthanasia showed significant confusion between directly taking a patient’s life by euthanasia and assisted suicide, and ceasing futile treatment, which is universally acknowledged as being ethical.

Though the Parti Quebecois only holds 54 seats of the 125 in the government, the Coalition Avenir Quebec has already expressed its support for the bill, meaning the majority of representatives are in favour. The Liberal party, the Official Opposition of the National Assembly, have not yet made their stance on the issue public.