QUEBEC - The Quebec government says it believes it has found a way of not running afoul of Ottawa after a legal panel recommended that a terminally ill patient has the right to die.
Provincial junior health minister Veronique Hivon said Tuesday the panel determined that provinces have the legal jurisdiction to legislate in matters of health and that the future Quebec legislation would clarify how acts to end a life wouldn't be considered suicide.
The report states "the Quebec legislature has the constitutional power to organize the required legal framework for end-of-life care within the health-care system."
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Canada under the Criminal Code. Julie Di Mambro, a spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said Tuesday the government's position remains the same.
"This is a painful and divisive issue that has been thoroughly debated in Parliament," she said. "We respect Parliament’s decision."
Hivon said the Quebec government can now pass a law with strict guidelines that will respect the wishes of the dying to shorten their suffering and provide doctors with a clear legal framework.
Under the recommendations, patients themselves would have to make the request to a doctor on the basis of unbearable physical or psychological suffering. Two physicians would have to approve the request, which would have to be made in writing.
Doctors would not face criminal charges in these circumstances, the report said. Any law should state that the refusal, interruption, abstention from care or the application of a terminal sedative in those circumstances could not be considered a suicide.
The Quebec panel, which was headed by lawyer Jean-Pierre Menard, said people suffering from an incurable or degenerative illness should be allowed to ask for medical assistance to help them die.
However, the panel added the final decision should be left up to doctors.
"We want to affirm a person's right to make a choice," Menard said.
"Besides that, we try to establish or to confirm or reinforce a lot of regulation for vulnerable people to avoid any situation in which a vulnerable person may be subject to a treatment that is not required," Menard said.
The recommendations follow a landmark report in Quebec from last March that suggested doctors be allowed in exceptional circumstances to help the terminally ill die if that is what the patients want.
It's a debate that Canadians have grappled with for nearly two decades.
In 1992, assisted suicide hit the national radar when Sue Rodriguez, a B.C. woman, fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to kill herself. Rodriguez, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, lost 5-4 in a split decision. She killed herself in 1994 with the help of an unidentified physician.
Hivon said implementation of any new law would be accompanied by a bolstering of Quebec's palliative-care system, which she said she believes is one way to avoid increased requests to use the right-to-die law.
She said a lack of palliative care is one reason many people ask to have their lives shortened.
"For the vast majority of people who are suffering, palliative care remains the best answer," she said.
The Quebec association of retired and semi-retired people has asked the government to open 200 new palliative-care beds.
"What the commission has shown is the urgent need to develop palliative care throughout the province," said association spokesman Mathieu Santerre.
(With a file by Nelson Wyatt in Montreal)
Related on HuffPost:
Euthanasia In Canada
Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide Not A Crime
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-Assisted Suicide Illegal
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year.<br><br> The <a href="http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-113.html#h-79" target="_hplink">Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241</a> that:<br><br> "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada.<br><br> The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodriguez_v._British_Columbia_(Attorney_General)" target="_hplink">Sue Rodriguez</a>, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability.<br><br> Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another.<br><br> The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Latimer" target="_hplink">Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy</a>. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.<br><br>The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. <br><br>Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Bills To Legalize
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation.<br><br> Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: <br><br> "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."<br><br>(CP)