Quebec appeal court rules assisted-dying law can go ahead

Quebec can implement Canada’s first law permitting physician-assisted dying, while the federal government decides on a framework for how to handle the tricky ethical issue, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday.

“Today’s decision confirms that the law will continue to apply,” said Jolyane Pronovost, a spokeswoman for Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee.

But contradictory legislation on the books leaves open the possibility that Quebec doctors who help patients die could be guilty federally while innocent provincially.

In February, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on euthanasia but suspended the application of its decision for a year to let Parliament draft new rules for when assisted suicide would be allowed, meaning the current federal law remains in force for now.

In Quebec (Attorney General) v. D’Amico, the Quebec appeal court overturned a lower-court decision that had left the provincial law in legal limbo. Quebec’s legislation was supposed to take effect on Dec. 10 but euthanasia opponents had contested it, saying it conflicts with Canada’s Criminal Code.

A spokesman for the federal government said it was reviewing Tuesday’s decision.

Pronovost said she was not concerned about Quebec doctors being sued or threatened with prosecution by performing euthanasia. Quebec has argued that euthanasia is a form of medical care, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.

The new Liberal government has asked the Supreme Court for a six-month extension on enacting legislation, saying last year’s election and the change of government set back drafting of replacement rules. The SCC will be hearing oral arguments on the extension Jan. 11, 2016.

Paul Saba, a Montreal family doctor who challenged the Quebec law in the lower court, said he would return to that court next year in a new legal bid to stop legalized euthanasia.

Saba and handicapped Quebecer Lisa D’Amico first sought legal action in that court in May 2014 to stop the provincial law.

“Euthanasia is a cheap and fast way to end suffering,” he said. “We are fighting for patients’ lives.”

Saba said he would argue that euthanasia is not a form of health care and Quebecers are not able to make a free choice when asking for assisted suicide because of errors by doctors in prognosis and diagnosing patients’ condition, along with inadequate palliative care.

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette, an advocate of the provincial law, told CBC television that while there will never be unanimity of views on such a topic, “there was a very, very large consensus.”

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