(June 25, 2013) On June 12, 2013, the Parti Québécois Government of Quebec introduced draft legislation entitled “An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care” (Bill 52, 40th legislature, 1st session, Assemblée Nationale Québec). Bill 52 aims to redefine the rights of patients who have serious illnesses and their options for end-of-life care treatments. Among the treatment options, the bill proposes including the right of a patient to receive terminal palliative sedation (id, § 25) and the right of a patient to obtain medical aid in dying (id. § 26).
According to some commentators, if the draft legislation passes, it will essentially legalize euthanasia in Canada and provide patients with “the most radical end-of-life options of any jurisdiction in North America” (Quebec Tables Euthanasia Bill, THE GLOBE AND MAIL (last updated June 12, 2013)).
The draft bill was presented to the National Assembly of Quebec on June 12 by its sponsor, the Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection, Véronique Hivon. Following the granting of leave to introduce the bill by the leading opposition party, the President of the Assembly confirmed that the draft legislation will be introduced in the Assembly (Votes and Proceedings of the Assembly, 43:65 JOURNAL DES DÉBATS (HANSARD) OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (June 12, 2013) [in French]).
Proposed Amendments of Current Law
If adopted, the proposed legislation will amend certain provisions of four key pieces of Quebec legislation:
- Civil Code of Quebec (R.S.Q., c C 1991);
- Medical Act (R.S.Q., c M-9, Sept. 20, 2012);
- Code of Civil Procedure (R.S.Q., c C-25); and
- An Act Respecting Health Services and Social Services (R.S.Q., c S-4.2).
The most notable provision that the bill will affect is section 31 of the Medical Act. Currently section 31 defines the practice of medicine as consisting of “assessing and diagnosing any deficiency in health and in preventing and treating illness to maintain or restore the health of a person in interaction with his environment.” Bill 52 proposes to include “administering the drug or substance allowing an end-of-life patient to obtain medical aid in dying under the Act respecting end-of-life care” in the definition of the practice of medicine. (Bill 52, supra.)
At present,under the Criminal Code of Canada, assisted suicide is criminally sanctioned. A person guilty of the offense is liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years (Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, § 241). Although criminal law is under the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada (Constitution Act, 1867, 30 & 31 Vict., c. 3 (U.K.) § 91(27), reprinted in R.S.C. 1985, app. 11, no. 5), the establishment and management of hospitals are under the exclusive jurisdiction of provincial legislatures (id. § 92(7)). Thus the government of Quebec has jurisdiction over the administration of health care in the province, which includes the treatment administered to patients.
Opposition to the Bill
There are doubts, however, as to the constitutionality of the proposed legislation, and some commentators even expect that the federal government will contest its constitutionality, even though the government of Quebec has framed the legislation as a health matter and not a criminal matter relating to euthanasia (Bernard St-Laurent, Hivon Confident Her End-of-Life Bill Will Survive a Legal Challenge, CBC NEWS MONTREAL (June 13, 2013)). The federal government is already challenging the 2012 ruling issued by the British Columbia Supreme Court declaring that the provision of the Criminal Code outlawing assisted suicide is unconstitutional (Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCSC 886).
In addition to the expected opposition to the bill by the federal government, Bill 52 has already been opposed by several nongovernmental groups (Nelson Wyatt, Federal Government Says It Will Review Quebec’s Right-to-Die Legislation, THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (June 12, 2013)). Among these groups, the Physicians Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia of Quebec published a press release on June 12, 2013, describing Bill 52 as “a dangerous and discriminatory bill” (Press Release, Physician’s Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia, Bill 52 – A Dangerous and Discriminatory Bill (June 12, 2013), Vivre Dans la Dignité website). The Alliance claims that Bill 52 will make it possible to “kill citizens weakened by illness within the public health system.” In the release, the Alliance stated that it will be “vigorously challenging” the bill (id.).
Prepared by Ashley Munro, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Tariq Ahmad, Legal Research Analyst.