Architect of Quebec's assisted dying law says problem isn't with legislation, but how it's applied

The architect of Quebec's assisted dying legislation says she has sympathy for the family of a man who was initially denied medical aid in dying — but if her party is elected, the law will stand.

"It's a very difficult situation. I totally understand," said Véronique Hivon, deputy leader of the Parti Québécois.

CBC News first had the story of Bob Blackwood, an Eastern Townships man who was at first denied a medically assisted death because one doctor said he was not close enough to a natural death.

Blackwood's wife, Heather Ross, has spoken out about Quebec's law, saying it is stricter than the rules in the rest of Canada, and ought to be changed. Ross filed a hospital complaint about the circumstances leading up to Blackwood's death in August 2017.

She believes his suffering was prolonged unnecessarily by systemic confusion over the application of Quebec's three-year-old assisted dying law, which she calls vague and too restrictive.

But Véronique Hivon, the MNA credited with helping Quebec's groundbreaking law pass, says the problem is not with the law, but in how it is applied.

Heather Ross

"We would really send directives so the physicians are not confused," she said on Wednesday.

"Some of them are still afraid that if they do something, there could be a [lawsuit] or something like that, which is not the case."

Hivon says the legislation was intended to let doctors make the decision.  

End of life versus "reasonably foreseeable"

Canadian law says the patient must have a "reasonably foreseeable" death in order to qualify for medical assistance in dying.

Quebec law requires patients to be at their "end of life," but it doesn't specify what that means. Quebec is the only province with its own law, having passed it before Canada legalized medically assisted death.

Blackwood was diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease that caused sleep deprivation and debilitating pain.

He was eventually granted a medically assisted death, but only after his wife and family did extensive research and sought a second opinion.

Ross and advocates who worked on the case say the Quebec law was a barrier and created a situation of undue hardship.