The Quebec Parliament is pictured in Quebec City in 2014. CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence

Judge puts Quebec euthanasia law on hold

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • December 2, 2015

MONTREAL - Quebec’s right to die legislation has been put on hold.  

Superior Court judge Michel Pinsonnault has ruled that a new law, Bill 52, which was to have come into effect Dec. 10, contradicts provisions in the criminal code and is therefore illegal.

In his ruling, the judge concluded that the Quebec law conflicts with two provisions of Canada’s criminal code which state that no one can agree to have death inflicted upon them, and that anyone convicted of helping a person to commit suicide could be sentenced to 14 years in prison. The judge wrote that Quebec cannot use a euphemism to get around criminal law.

“It must be concluded at this stage that ‘medical aid in dying,’ in the present context, corresponds prima facie to the euthanasia of a human being at his express request, or in other words, assistance with suicide necessarily through the intervention of another person,” Pinsonnault wrote. “Adding the word ‘medical’ to the expression ‘aid in dying’ is alone not enough to protect provincial legislation that is incompatible with federal criminal legislation.”

Pinsonnault noted that last February’s Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down the ban on assisted suicide gave Canada and the provinces a year — until Feb. 6, 2016 — to come up with new legislation before the criminal code provisions are invalidated. As long as those provisions are on the books, he wrote, a doctor administering euthanasia would be committing a crime.

The federal government is expected to ask the Supreme Court for an extension beyond a year.

The case was brought to the court by Dr. Paul Saba, a Montreal doctor opposed to the legislation, on behalf of his patient, Lisa D’Amico, who is disabled. They argued that Quebec’s “medical aid in dying” is not health care and is contrary to both the Canada Health Act and Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Saba argued that as long as patients have a right to palliative care, dying with dignity need not be enforced. The judge agreed.

“We are relieved and we hope the delay will give the federal government a chance to prepare legislation that protects patients from harm,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, head of the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia. “The judge pointed out that medical aid to assist the dying is the same thing as euthanasia, which is obvious to everyone, even though politicians in Quebec keep trying to deny it.”

“Euthanasia is done by lethal injection which does not constitute a form of health care,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. The coalition was an intervenor in the court case.

The enabling legislation was introduced by the minority Parti Quebec government two years ago and was passed in a free vote earlier this year by the Liberal government. The bill does not specifically mention the word euthanasia or suicide. Its language is couched in euphemisms such as providing “end-of-life care.” It allows terminally ill patients who are “of sound mind” and “in a state of unbearable physical and psychological pain” to ask their doctor for “palliative sedation.”

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee says the province will abide by the law pending an appeal.

“As far as we are concerned, Quebec law is valid and provides an acceptable framework for the end-of-life care for Quebec patients,” she said. “The ruling goes against the will of the people of Quebec, who clearly expressed their desire to have this option. I find the ruling unfortunate. Our position is we are offering end-of-life care, and we are within our rights.”

Hugh Scher, legal counsel for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, disagrees. He said the Supreme Court has recognized the role of the federal government to legislate on the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“The federal government either has sole jurisdiction or shared jurisdiction concerning these issues,” said Scher. “The decision was necessary based on the federal right to legislate on these issues.”

(With files from Catholic Register staff.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Yet again, a religious minority attempts to take away our hard won freedoms. Do what is best for you, and let me choose what is best for me.

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