An expert judicial panel appointed by the government of Quebec released their report on Jan. 15. Their report moves the province one step closer to legalized medical aid-in-dying by June of 2013.
Last March, as part of a comprehensive report on Dying With Dignity, the all-party committee of the Quebec National Assembly issued their full report, including recommendations to allow legalized end-of-life choice for individuals suffering greatly at end-of-life.
The government then appointed three expert lawyers to a judicial panel to make recommendations to the government on how to proceed with implementing these recommendations.
At issue is the fact that the right to die is currently prohibited by the Criminal Code, which is federal legislation and thus cannot be amended by any province. However, while the law is set at a federal level, it is up to the provinces to administer the law. It is by changing how Quebec carries out this mandate that the province will enable doctors to provide medically-assisted dying.
The expert panel suggests that Quebec provide guidelines to provincial crown prosecutors outlining when not to prosecute. Under these guidelines, if a doctor assists a patient to die, providing a comprehensive list of safeguards are met, the doctor will not be prosecuted under the Criminal Code.
The guidelines include the following:
- The applicant must be a competent adult and resident of Quebec
- There must be two doctors involved
- The request must be initiated by the applicant
- The applicant must be at end of life, suffering from an incurable disease and at an advanced stage of weakening capacities
The government of Quebec has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to allow medically-assisted dying by June 2013. They have even stated that this is one of their top five priorities - a priority which has support across all government parties. They are now one giant step closer.
Can Quebec do this? There are historical precedents. We do know that B.C. has already established prosecutorial guidelines that provide discretion to crown attorneys in bringing charges for assisting someone to end their life. And Quebec was the first province to stop charging doctors for performing abortions - something they did 12 years before the legislation finally changed. It will be interesting to see the Federal response.
Vice-President, Dying With Dignity