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Canada Superior Court grants injunction to put Quebec’s assisted dying law on hold

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The Quebec government will seek leave to appeal a court ruling that would postpone the implementation of a provincial law on assisted dying until at least February.

A Quebec Superior Court justice granted an injunction on Tuesday to a group of doctors opposed to the law.

Health Minister Gaetan Barrette and Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee both reiterated their belief that the law is perfectly valid.

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The legislation, which outlines how terminally ill patients can end their lives with medical help, was adopted unanimously by members of the legislature in June 2014.

The senior Couillard government ministers reminded reporters in Quebec 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.

"There is a clear difference between euthanasia and medical aid in dying," Vallee said. "We are going to appeal the decision and, for the moment, we have no choice but to comply with the judgment that has been rendered."

The legislation came after four years of discussions and consultations as well as a grace period allowing institutions time to determine how to implement the law.

Barrette didn't hide his disappointment, particularly for those people eagerly awaiting the law's arrival.

"After the consensus we have experienced in this province, in this room, in this (national) assembly, there's a ruling that says to the public they (the courts) disagree," Barrette said...We still believe we are in our right."

The injunction sought by the Quebec-based Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice and Lisa D'Amico, a handicapped woman, was related to a Supreme Court ruling last February that struck down the prohibition on physician-assisted dying.

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The high court's decision gave the federal government 12 months to craft a new law to recognize the right of clearly consenting adults with enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.

The group of doctors and D'Amico argued the ruling was based on a case in British Columbia that occurred before the Quebec law was adopted in June 2014.

They also said a patient's consent cannot be free and informed if he or she has not been offered all palliative care options, which is not always the case in Quebec due to a lack of accessibility to certain treatments, drugs and services.

Reaction to the court ruling was mixed.

"Euthanasia is done by lethal injection, which does not constitute a form of health care," Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said in a statement.

Dying With Dignity Canada, however, expressed disappointment with the ruling.

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"We are devastated by the judge's decision to delay access to medical aid in dying in Quebec," said Wanda Morris, the organization's CEO.

"We fear this injunction will effectively rob terminally ill Quebecers — those patients in the last throes of their illnesses — of their rightful access to a peaceful death."

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the federal government is expected to announce this week whether it will seek an extension from the Supreme Court to the one-year deadline.

Neither Ottawa nor the remaining provinces have regulated doctor-assisted death yet, but a federally appointed panel is looking into legislative options to govern the practice.

A Senate source also told The Canadian Press on Tuesday the government has put out feelers about creating a joint parliamentary committee to come up with recommendations for legislation governing doctor-assisted dying.

The government wants the committee of MPs and senators to get started quickly.

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