Physician-assisted dying now legal in Quebec… or is it?

In 2014 Quebec passed Bill 52 (An Act respecting end-of-life care) which legalized “medical aid in dying” (something others refer to as “voluntary euthanasia” though the terminology is controversial). The law was set to come into force on December 10, 2015.

In February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada’s criminal laws prohibiting physicians from helping certain people die violates some people’s constitutional rights. The new law (legalizing physician-assisted dying for eligible individuals) is set to come into force on February 6, 2016.

This has created some confusion about whether Quebec physicians can legally assist people to die between December 10, 2015 and February 6, 2016.

A legal challenge was brought in early December in which a court ruled that Quebec would have to wait until February 6, 2016 because Bill 52 contravened the Criminal Code (and the latter prevails in the event of conflict). That decision is being appealed and is set to be heard on December 18, 2015. Some people, including the Quebec government, have taken the position that between December 10 and December 18 medical aid in dying is legal and does not violate the Criminal Code. However, the consequences if they are wrong could be significant. Under the Criminal Code anyone who helps a person to commit suicide could be found guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years. But Quebec’s Bill 52 does not merely allow physicians to help patients die – it allows physicians to administer medical aid in dying. This could expose physicians to even greater sanctions.

It has been reported that Quebec plans to operate under Bill 52 beginning on December 10 unless and until the Court of Appeal orders otherwise.

Medical aid in dying will be available only to those who have health insurance in Quebec, and therefore it is not expected that “suicide tourism” will follow.

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