Quebec allows sick patients to request assisted death in advance

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec is expanding its program of assisted medical death and will become the first Canadian province to allow sick people to put in an advance request for help in dying before they become incapacitated.

The measure will permit people suffering from Alzheimer's and other serious diseases to apply for assistance in ending their lives while they are still deemed to be in control of their faculties.

The move could set up a clash with the federal government, which drew up the law on medical assistance in dying. Quebec Health Minister Sonia Belanger said she planned to have talks with Ottawa, given the law as it currently stands does not allow advance requests of the kind Quebec has approved.

Quebec was able to expand the program because while the federal government is responsible for the Criminal Code, provinces are largely in control of healthcare.

A spokesperson for federal Justice Minister David Lametti said the government "is aware" of the bill.

"We will be studying this legislation and its implications closely, and will be working with our Quebec counterparts on this matter," Diana Ebadi wrote in an email.

The legislature in Quebec, the second most populous of the 10 provinces, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measure on Wednesday. People deemed admissible can request an assisted death up to 24 months in advance.

"With advance requests, people affected by a cognitive neurodegenerative disease who want medical assistance in dying can finally have a peaceful end of life," said Georges L'Esperance, president of the Quebec Association for the Right to Die with Dignity.

The federal government, already under criticism over how broad the law is, has moved to exclude people suffering solely from mental illness from pursuing assisted death for an additional year.

Canada's assisted dying framework is under fire from disability advocates who say it has become easier to access assisted death than it is to access resources or supports that would make life more bearable.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Reese and Deepa Babington)