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Quebec panel recommends allowing physician-assisted suicide

Quebec junior Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon, right, accompanied by lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard, left, walks to a news conference to comment on a report called Dying within dignity, Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A panel of legal experts in Quebec is recommending that people suffering from an incurable or degenerative illness be allowed to ask for medical assistance to help them die.

However, the panel says the final decision should be left up to doctors.

Today's recommendations follow a landmark report in Quebec from last March that suggested doctors be allowed in exceptional circumstances to help the terminally ill die if that is what the patients want.

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The report opened the door to euthanasia, which is specifically called medically assisted death.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Canada under the Criminal Code.

Quebec's junior health minister, Veronique Hivon, said today's legal opinion paves the way for the province to table a bill on the controversial topic in the next few months.

It's a debate that Canadians have grappled with for nearly two decades.

In 1992, assisted suicide hit the national radar when Sue Rodriguez, a B.C. woman, fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to kill herself. Ms. Rodriguez, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, lost 5-4 in a split decision. She killed herself in 1994 with the help of an unidentified physician.

In June, B.C.'s top court concluded it is unconstitutional to prevent the sick and dying from asking a doctor to help them end their lives. Ottawa is appealing that decision.

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