Quebec puts expansion of assisted death legislation on hold until next session

·3 min read
With members of the commission assembled to study the bill standing shoulder to shoulder on Thursday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Bill 38 won't be voted on this session.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
With members of the commission assembled to study the bill standing shoulder to shoulder on Thursday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Bill 38 won't be voted on this session. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Quebec government is putting on hold a bill that would extend the province's assisted death legislation to people with Alzheimer's disease.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Thursday that Bill 38 — which would allow people with severe and incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia and Parkinson's to consent to an assisted death before they become mentally or physically incapable of doing so — would not be adopted before the end of the legislative session.

"We will come back to this," said Dubé, as the National Assembly prepared to break for summer.

"We have advanced it far, and we will continue to work for the people of Quebec."

He said this will give elected officials the opportunity to further reflect on this complex proposed law.

Dubé made the announcement surrounded by members of the commission established to study the bill, and they all vowed to move forward with it next session.

"I think we made the right call today. I think this is the right call for Quebecers," he said.

David Birnbaum, the Liberal MNA for D'Arcy-McGee, said putting the bill on the hold is the right thing to do as it will allow for further investigation and discussion.

Everybody, not just provincial legislators but professionals also, have work left to do on this bill before making it a law, he said.

"We will do this right, piece by piece," said Québec solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal, representing the district of Rosemont.

Quebec's medical aid in dying law requires that patients give written consent to an assisted death within 90 days of the procedure.

Patients with severe Alzheimer's, however, are usually incapable of offering clear and informed consent and are therefore prohibited under law from accessing medical aid in dying.

Bill 38 needed unanimous support from all five parties to pass before summer break.

"We have made so much progress during the last few weeks," said Dubé, who doesn't expect discussion to drag on much longer once fall session gets underway.

"I think we are all aware that it is too important not to take all the time necessary given the complexity of the subject. We are going to need additional time to complete the work that has been extremely well started."

Dubé said many people are waiting for this legislation to move forward but "we must be careful" and the extra time will give health professionals time to adjust and ask questions. Meanwhile, it will give the Health Ministry time to develop the appropriate guides, he added.

Approximately 140,000 Quebecers currently suffer from Alzheimer's. People could, under the proposed law, decide with a specialized nurse practitioner or doctor at which phase of their disease they wish to end their life.

The request would be recorded in a form completed and signed in the presence of a doctor or a specialized nurse practitioner, then countersigned by two witnesses or notarized. It would then be placed in a register. The patient can withdraw or modify the plan later.

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