The Quebec government is removing a section of its end-of-life care bill that would have allowed quadriplegics and people with cerebral palsy to receive an assisted death.
Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters this week that he is making the change to ensure the bill is passed before the legislature breaks for the summer break ahead of a fall election.
Dubé said opposition parties expressed concern with the article, which was part of a bill tabled Wednesday, because the question of extending medical aid in dying to people with neuromuscular disorders was never debated in the province.
The minister told reporters he had followed the advice of Quebec’s College of Physicians, which had pushed for serious neuromuscular disabilities to be included in the bill. The aim was to harmonize the Quebec legislation with federal law.
“There is a legal blur between the federal government and Quebec, which is very uncomfortable for doctors,” Dubé said, adding he had listened to the concerns to those on the front line. But in the end he has decided to postpone that element until “Quebecers are ready.”
In order for the bill to pass before the end of the session, it needs unanimous approval from all five parties in the legislature. The main thrust of the bill is to allow people to make an advanced request for an assisted death in the event they develop severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Opposition parties were caught off guard by the addition of severe neuromotor impairment, which had not come up for debate, and denounced Dubé's decision to include it.
“But it’s so silly, why did they put it in the bill? We just lost 48 hours, we don’t have time to lose,” said Vincent Marissal of Québec solidaire.
In a series of tweets, the College of Physicians said it is confident the public supports its proposed expansion of medical aid in dying and will make its case before a future legislature committee hearing.
“Medical assistance in dying is a very sensitive issue that must move forward in consensus,” the college said. “It is important to us that the situation be clarified so that doctors can provide this care legally and with peace of mind to eligible people who request it.”
Premier François Legault said it was important to have all parties in agreement.
“I have one goal, and that is to have a bill that brings everyone together,” Legault said. “We will go with the consensus.”
Quebec’s medical-aid-in-dying law requires that patients give written consent to an assisted death within 90 days of the procedure.
Patients with severe Alzheimer’s, however, are usually incapable of offering clear and informed consent and are therefore currently prohibited under law from accessing medical aid in dying.
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