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Quebec euthanasia bill may bypass Canadian law

Published time: January 16, 2013 15:56
Edited time: January 16, 2013 19:56
Reuters / Michael Kooren

Reuters / Michael Kooren

Quebec is pushing ahead with a euthanasia bill that Canada’s federal government has decried as illegal and tantamount to assisted suicide. The move comes after recommendations from legal experts, claiming the bill does not violate Canadian law.

­A team of legal experts released a 400-page report to the government of Quebec outlining their recommendations for the so-called ‘dying with dignity’ bill. The experts argued that legislation allowing doctors to assist a patient in dying does not violate the Canadian Criminal Code, which prohibits assisted suicide.

"The Quebec legislature has the constitutional power to organize the required legal framework for end-of-life care within the health-care system," the report stated.

The law will only be applicable in cases where the patient is close to death and enduring great pain and suffering. If the patient is receiving palliative care and can in their right mind express a desire to end their life, it is the doctor’s duty to carry out that wish.

"Every person should be able to make their own choice according to their values and according to their experience, their life, at the end of their life," said Jean-Paul Ménard, who led the legal panel. Ménard noted that it would be at the doctor’s discretion as to whether to comply with the request and that the patient would be free to seek other medical advice should the request be refused.

Canada’s federal government has made it clear that it does not approve of the legislation, regarding it as a violation of the country’s ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Julie Di Mambro, a spokesperson for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said Tuesday the government's stance on the issue remains unchanged. "This is a painful and divisive issue that has been thoroughly debated in Parliament," she said. "We respect Parliament’s decision."

However, the panel argued that the new specification will allow Quebec to sidestep Ottawa and pass the bill into law.

Véronique Hivon, Quebec's social services minister, said the report gives the province’s government the legal grounds to move forward. "The constitutional basis is clear," Hivon said. "We are really in a field of regulating end-of-life care – and adding the possibility for somebody to have access to medical aid in dying."

Setting a precedent

Opponents of the bill have voiced fears that the ‘dying with dignity’ law will pavee the way for a loosening of regulations over what might end up amounting to assisted suicide.

The President of the Quebec Life Coalition said that “there are scary precedents,” citing the recent case of the two twins in Belgium who were euthanized by lethal injection: "Give it a few years, and you'll have cases like these twins," he told CBC News. "The floodgates open."

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