After being passed unanimously by Quebec’s National Assembly in June 2014, Quebec’s medically assisted dying law, also known as Bill 52, has been thrown back into the forefront of recent debates. Quebec’s government lawyers appealed the decision by Superior Court Justice Michel Pinsonnault, who had ruled that the law contradicts certain provisions of the Canada Criminal Code regarding physician assisted suicide. For the time being, Health Minister Gaetan Barrette has confirmed that Bill 52 will go into effect starting December 10, 2015, at least until December 18, 2015, when arguments will heard before the Court of Appeals.
Bill 52 outlines conditions that terminally ill individuals must satisfy in order to receive medical aid in dying. This aid would specifically pertain to patients with an “incurable disease, an incurable illness, which is causing unbearable suffering.” Such assisted suicide, as advocates explain, will allow patients to end their lives with dignity and as painlessly as possible.
Back in February 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court justices had ruled in favor of Bill 52, but they opted to stay their decision for one year until February 2016 to give Parliament more time to align existing law with their ruling. That year will expire on February 6, 2016.
The legality of Bill 52 has been most recently questioned by Paul Saba, the head of the Quebec Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice, and Lisa D’Amico, a woman living with disabilities, who sought an injunction to prevent the bill from taking effect. Although Justice Pinsonnault concluded that certain provisions of the new law contradicted provisions of the Canada Criminal Code on medically assisted suicide, he did not grant the injunction and instead ruled that the law must align with federal laws. The federal Criminal Code provisions, however, were struck down by Supreme Court in February 2015.
While the assisted dying law will go into effect until at least December 18, 2015, its future remains unclear as the debate over end of life care and assisted suicide continues in Quebec’s Court of Appeals.