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‘Medical aid in Dying’ in Québec is Euthanasia, Quebec Superior Court rules

by | Dec 3, 2015

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Justice Michel Pinsonnault

Justice Michel Pinsonnault

In his decision on December 1, Justice Michel Pinsonnault of the Québec Superior Court stopped the Québec euthanasia law from coming into effect on December 10. The case was launched by the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice which sought to obtain an injunction and to declare that the Québec law is unconstitutional.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) intervened in the case.

According to the National Post

The judge noted that last February’s Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down a federal ban on assisted suicide gave Ottawa and the provinces a year to prepare new legislation before the Criminal Code provisions in question become invalid.

Pinsonnault ruled that as long as those provisions are on the books — and it is expected Ottawa will request an extension to the Feb. 6 deadline — a Quebec physician administering euthanasia under the provincial law would be committing a crime. He ordered the suspension of the articles of the Quebec law concerning euthanasia until the Criminal Code is changed.

Paul Saba, the leader of Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice, and Lisa D’Amico, a woman with a disability, brought the suit. But the federal attorney general “intervened on their side, arguing that application of the Quebec law should be suspended until the Criminal Code is amended,” the National Post reported.

The Québec government reacted to the judgement by declaring that they will appeal the decision. The government suggested that the judge made an error when finding that ‘medical aid in dying’ constitutes euthanasia. CTV news reported:

The senior Couillard government ministers reminded reporters in Québec City the law addressed end-of-life care for those with serious illness and should not be associated with a form of euthanasia, a parallel made in the injunction ruling. [Ed. note: Rene Couillard is the Premier of Quebec.]

According to the CTV news Québec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said:

“There is a clear difference between euthanasia and medical aid in dying.”

The comments by the Québec government defy logic.

It is one thing to devise political “talking points” to hide the fact that ‘medical aid in dying,’ which includes death by lethal injection, is euthanasia. It is another thing to appeal a court decision based on a talking point.

In his decision Justice Pinsonnault saw through the rhetoric.

The National Post’s Graeme Hamilton noted

What is more devastating for Quebec’s euthanasia advocates is that Pinsonnault’s ruling picks apart the foundation of the Quebec law. Quebec has argued that it was within its rights to legislate because “medical aid in dying” is simply an element of health care, which is a provincial jurisdiction.

Pinsonnault writes that Quebec cannot resort to a euphemism to skirt criminal law. “It must be concluded at this stage that ‘medical aid in dying,’ in the present context, corresponds prima facie to the euthanasia of a human being at his express request,” he writes, “or in other words, assistance with suicide necessarily through the intervention of another person.” Whatever the act is called, it is not currently permitted under the Criminal Code. “Adding the word ‘medical’ to the expression ‘aid in dying’ is alone not enough to protect provincial legislation that is incompatible with federal criminal legislation.”

Hamilton then quotes Québec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee, who disagreed:

“In the judgment, a much too narrow parallel is made with euthanasia. Medical aid in dying is health care; it is part of a continuum of care.”

EPC will intervene at the Court of Appeal in this case. We will urge the Court to employ the same clear thinking as Justice Pinsonnault did in his Superior Court decision.

Editor’s note. This appeared at and is reprinted with permission.

Categories: Euthanasia