The Quebec government won’t appeal a court ruling last month that struck down sections of the provincial law on medically assisted dying that were deemed unconstitutional.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin ruled in favour of two Quebeckers struck by incurable degenerative diseases who had argued both the federal and provincial laws were too restrictive.
Justice Baudouin ruled invalid the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” before someone can be eligible for assisted death, as well as the provincial requirement that people “be at the end of life.”
The plaintiffs in the case, Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon, had argued the provisions led to their requests for an assisted death under the law being denied.
Two provincial cabinet ministers told a news conference Thursday they have not decided whether the contested section of the Quebec law will be redrafted, saying the government will continue separately to study broadening access to the procedure.
Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said the province could decide to rewrite the provision that has been struck down or simply drop it from the legislation. She noted the federal government will have to take a position, and Quebec will work with the next party in power in Ottawa to harmonize their efforts.
Justice Baudouin suspended the application of her judgment for six months to give federal and provincial legislators a chance to modify the laws, granting an exemption to Ms. Gladu and Mr. Truchon to seek medical aid in dying during this period if they satisfy other legal conditions.
The judge wrote that the laws in place had deprived the two plaintiffs of the right to have “a dignified and serene death.”
At the same time, Health Minister Danielle McCann said the province will begin looking at whether to expand the Quebec law to others who don’t currently qualify – something it’s asked an expert panel to look into.
“We have a time factor,” Ms. McCann explained in announcing the decision, noting the six-month deadline. “At the same time, shortly, we’re going to have the final report of the group of experts that have looked at this question of the enlargement.”
This week, five professional orders in Quebec called on the province and Ottawa not to appeal the Sept. 11 judgment, urging them instead to change the laws to bring them in line with the Quebec ruling. Others opposed to the law have called for better support for those living with disabilities to be able to live better.
On the federal election trail, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said his party would look at ways to improve Canada’s medical assistance in dying legislation.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party would favour an appeal of the ruling so that the Supreme Court of Canada could provide certainty.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was in favour of the Quebec ruling, which he said demonstrated the choice isn’t available for all those seeking an assisted death.
Despite the continuing federal campaign, Ms. McCann said Quebec can continue to work on its own law.
“Quebec has been a leader, Quebec has influenced the federal government so I think we’re in a good position to pursue right away working on these aspects of the law,” the health minister said.
Court heard that Ms. Gladu suffers from postpolio syndrome and medication no longer helps alleviate her pain.
Mr. Truchon has cerebral palsy. Three of his four limbs were not functional at birth, and he just lost the use of the fourth, although he could continue to live for many more years.
Their lawyer had argued in favour of the 2015 Supreme Court decision decriminalizing medical assistance in dying that established suffering – not imminent death – as the most important consideration.
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