A Quebec Superior Court justice has declared parts of both the federal and provincial laws on medically assisted dying unconstitutional because they're too restrictive.
Two Montrealers with degenerative diseases, Jean Truchon, 49, and Nicole Gladu, 73, launched a court challenge in January seeking access to Quebec and Canada's doctor-assisted dying laws.
Both suffer from serious health problems that their lawyer argued cause persistent and intolerable suffering.
Federal and provincial laws currently say only people who are facing "foreseeable death" can receive aid to die.
Truchon and Gladu argued the laws are too narrow in their criteria and run counter to their Charter rights.
In a decision released Wednesday, Justice Christine Baudouin largely agreed with Truchon and Gladu's arguments.
"The court finds that the statutory provision requiring natural death be reasonably foreseeable infringes life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed by Section 7 of the Charter to Mr. Jean Truchon and Ms. Nicole Gladu, in a manner inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice," Baudouin said.
"The reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement deprives both individuals and claimants of their autonomy and their choice to end their lives at the time and in the manner desired."
She also found the provision violated their right to equality.
Lawyers for the federal government argued that the "foreseeable death" criterion is necessary to protect "vulnerable" people who are suffering from serious ailments but are not fatally ill from using the law as a way to die by suicide.
The judge rejected that comparison.
"What the plaintiffs are really looking for is that the law recognizes equally the suffering, the dignity and, ultimately, the autonomy of people who, like them, are affected by serious and irremediable health problems, without any hierarchy, whether death is near or not," Baudouin said.
Province to study decision
Her decision gives governments six months to come up with something new before suspending that provision of the law.
It also grants an exemption to Gladu and Truchon that allows them to apply for medically assisted death immediately.
The federal and provincial governments could appeal the decision.
Truchon and Gladu's lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard, said his clients would hold a news conference Thursday.
Many others reacted to the decision today.
'Relieved, grateful and thankful'
Heather Ross's husband Bob Blackwood received medical assistance in dying in 2017 in the Eastern Townships.
She was thrilled by the decision.
Blackwood had Parkinson's disease. He was initially refused medical assistance in dying, because the first doctors he consulted didn't consider his death reasonably foreseeable.
Ross said the delay between the initial refusal and the eventual acceptance was "devastating."
"I'm very relieved and grateful and thankful. My husband would be too," Ross told CBC Wednesday.
"He would just be so happy that other people didn't have to suffer the way he did. And had that law been changed when he was going through this, he would've had a much easier time."
'Better to be dead than disabled'
Groups representing people with disabilities condemned the decision and encouraged the provincial and federal governments to appeal.
"Basically this decision is saying that as far as society's concerned, it's better to be dead than disabled," Amy Hasbrouck, with the group Not Dead Yet, told CBC Wednesday.
Hasbrouck said rather than making medically assisted dying easier to access, governments should be working to improve services for people with severe disabilities, so they can have a good quality of life and continue to live in their own homes.
Michel Racicot is the lawyer for two groups that intervened in the case, Living With Dignity and The Collective of Doctors Against Euthanasia.
"On the one hand, governments are trying to prevent suicide with prevention campaigns. But now the message will be that if you are suffering, we will offer you a way out," Racicot said Wednesday.
He said people who receive a diagnosis of a serious disease may need time to accept their condition.
He's concerned that removing the "reasonably foreseeable" provision of the law would make it easier for such people to end their lives impulsively without having time to reflect.
Speaking to reporters at the National Assembly in Quebec City Wednesday, Véronique Hivon, the PQ MNA and former cabinet minister who was the chief architect of Quebec's law, hailed the decision as an opportunity to improve it.
"I'm extending a hand to the health minister for us to work together on the next steps, so Quebec can continue to be a leader in the name of respect and dignity for people who are sick and suffering," Hivon said.
Quebec's Health Minister Danielle McCann told reporters Wednesday her government would take time to study the decision.
A spokesperson for the federal Ministry of Justice said the same thing.
Premier François Legault said Wednesday his government is open to making changes.
Provincial Liberal health critic André Fortin called the decision "good news."
He urged the government not to file an appeal and to act quickly to change the law.