Medical aid to die: Ottawa launches consultations in anticipation of the change of the law

Aide médicale à mourir: Ottawa lance ses consultations en prévision du changement de la loi

The prime minister Justin Trudeau would amend the federal law on medical assistance to die.

January 13, 2020 8h34

Updated at 17h34


Medical aid to die: Ottawa launches consultations in anticipation of the change of the law

Joan Bryden

The Canadian Press


OTTAWA — The Trudeau government launched on Monday a public consultation on the best way to respond to a decision of the court, which concluded that it was unconstitutional to allow only to Canadians who are already on the point of death to seek medical help to end their suffering.

The prime minister Justin Trudeau stated that the government accepts the decision handed down on 11 September by the superior Court of Quebec, and amend federal law accordingly.

But although the government has agreed to eliminate the criterion of imminent death, his consultation questionnaire suggests that other barriers may be imposed to ensure what it sees as a balance between the right of a person to choose to end her life and the protection of vulnerable persons which may be subject to pressure.

Under the decision of the court, it has until march 11 to change the law.

Canadians will have until January 27 to give their opinion on how the law should be amended by means of the online questionnaire was launched on Monday.

At the same time, the minister of Justice, David Lametti, the minister of Health Patty Hajdu and the minister of the Inclusion of people with disabilities Carla Qualtrough will organise round tables and meetings with key stakeholders.

The timing of consultation, which leaves only six weeks to the government to draft a new law and pass it to time to the House of commons and the Senate to meet the deadline set by the court — suggests that Ottawa will need to request a delay to the court.

The decision has been made on the first day of the federal election campaign last fall.

Judge Christine Baudouin has determined that the restriction of eligibility for medical assistance to die to those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” is unconstitutional. She also said that it was unconstitutional for Quebec, which has its own law on assistance to die, to limit the eligibility to those who are in the “end of life”.

The decision does not apply technically in Quebec, but, since the Trudeau government refused to appeal the decision, any changes will apply across the country.

The federal law is entered into force in June 2016, following a landmark decision of the supreme Court of Canada that overturned the previous ban on medical assistance to die.

Mr. Lametti, a backbencher at the time, had been one of the four liberal members of parliament to vote against the law. As a former law professor, he stated that he was concerned by the fact that the law was too restrictive and did not meet the eligibility criteria laid down by the supreme Court and would eventually be declared unconstitutional.

The online questionnaire asks people to think about the safeguards that must be put in place to prevent abuse if the requirement of death can be predicted is removed from the act.

Among other things, it asks people to ask if :

– the period of reflection in current of 10 days between the request and the receipt of medical assistance to die should be extended;

– the act should require that the physician and the patient agree that other treatments and reasonable options for relieving the suffering have been tried without success;

– psychological or psychiatric assessments mandatory should be required to determine the capacity to consent;

– a mandatory consultation with an expert from the state of health of a person should be required, in addition to the two medical assessments required current.

Although public consultations are primarily aimed at how to respond to the decision of the quebec court, they will dive also into broader issues that have been excluded in the new law and which must be taken into account in the framework of a revision of parliamentary law, which should begin this summer.

These questions include whether mature minors and people who are strictly mental illnesses should be eligible and if the people who fear losing their mental capacity should be able to make requests prior to medical assistance to die.

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