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Archbishop Christian Lépine in his office in Montreal in 2019.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A Quebec law requiring all palliative care homes to offer medical assistance in dying violates religious freedom and should be declared unconstitutional, says a legal challenge filed by the office of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal.

A palliative care home in Montreal affiliated with the Catholic Church should not be required to administer medically assisted deaths, Archbishop Christian Lepine said in an interview Tuesday.

“It’s about freedom of conscience,” Lepine said.

The requirement that palliative care homes offer medical assistance in dying – known as MAID – came into effect in early December. The lawsuit, filed in Quebec Superior Court and dated Friday, wants that part of Quebec’s end-of-life law to be struck down and for the church’s care centre to be immediately exempt from it until the case is heard on its merits.

Located in a former church, the care home, called St. Raphael’s, accompanies people until their natural deaths, Lepine said.

“I know it’s a complicated issue and there are many points of view, but I feel that in a democracy and with the Charter of Rights that we have, it should be allowed to respect the freedom of conscience, which is very important.”

The lawsuit argues that the law forces the church into an unsolvable dilemma: stop supporting its palliative care centre, or “accept that their property, a former church, be used to commit acts that they consider morally unacceptable.”

A person’s dignity isn’t affected by whether they are sick or near death, Lepine said, adding that ending someone’s life isn’t the solution to pain. “The solution is to take care of the person and bring comfort.”

St. Raphael’s, which opened in 2019, had an agreement with the regional health authority that allowed patients who requested an assisted death to be transferred to a public health-care facility. But in September, less than three months before the law came into effect, St. Raphael’s asked for an exemption, which the lawsuit says was denied by Quebec’s Minister Responsible for Seniors, Sonia Belanger.

Sarah Bigras, a spokeswoman for Belanger, who introduced the recent changes to Quebec’s end-of-life law, said the “government’s intentions are clear: anyone in a palliative care home can receive medical assistance in dying if they so wish.”

Bigras said in an e-mail that all palliative care homes in the province are following the law, but declined to comment further as the case is before the courts.

The Quebec palliative care association said in March that there were only four palliative care facilities in the province that didn’t offer medical assistance in dying.

Other provinces, such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, allow religious facilities to opt-out of offering the procedure. In B.C., where religious institutions play a large role in the health-care system, the provincial government announced in November that it would build a clinic specifically for MAID next to a Catholic hospital in Vancouver that has a large palliative care wing.

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