Right to die law comes into effect, but physicians advise of grey area
Published Thursday, December 10, 2015 12:01PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 10, 2015 8:21PM EST
While the provincial government wait for a full hearing concerning Quebec's right to die law, it has advised Crown prosecutors not to charge any doctor who assists an individual's death.
Doctors will have to follow the guidelines established earlier this year to allow patients to end their lives with assistance.
To prevent abuse, Bill 52 only allows doctors to administer a lethal injection if a person is mentally fit, with an incurable illness, in unbearable physical and/or psychological pain and in an advanced state of irreversible decline.
Patients can change their mind at any time, and doctors have the right to refuse to administer lethal drugs for moral or ethical reasons.
Some doctors are still wary of the ethical and legal issues involved.
"There are many issues. There are the medical issues, the legal issues and the political issues," said Dr. Yves Robert on behalf of the College of Physicians.
"I can understand that the Minister of Health and Minister of Justice try to defend the point of view of their government, it's a political point of view, but there are other points of view that exist and we have to consider them as a whole."
Dr. Eugene Bereza, the director of the MUHC Centre for Applied Ethics, said that Quebec's law regarding who or who is not eligible is quite rigid compare to other countries, and comes with a considerable amount of oversight.
"Every case of right to die would have to be reported to the Council of Physicians, would have to be recorded by them to the Director General of the institution, and would have to also be reported to the commission, the special commission of the government set up," he said.
"There are at least three sets of eyes looking at each specific case."
"What the government calls medical aid in dying has never been part of medical care," said Dr. Paul Saba, one of the people who contested the law. "What people need is good care, including good palliative care."
On a federal level the Supreme Court has overturned a law making doctor-assisted death illegal, and gave the federal government until February 2016 to create a new law.
Last week Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she planned to ask the Supreme Court for a six-month extension.
Robert said those federal cases mean the law is in a grey area.
"They have to know that they are still taking a risk, although this risk is very low. Because let's be clear, over the last 40 years where the Criminal Code was fully present, fully applied, there were cases of euthanasia that were prosecuted," he said.
"If they find it's the most appropriate care for the patient they can probably do it but knowing that they have to comply very strictly to the conditions imposed by the law and our medical guideline."
Bereza suggested said the odds of being prosecuted are unlikely given the Supreme Court's ruling.
"Those two articles were struck down by the Supreme Court unanimously, nine to zero," said Bereza. "Technically they're still on the books."
On Thursday a judge overturned an injunction stopping Bill 52 from coming into effect until a full hearing could be had on Dec. 18, 2015.