The Quebec College of Physicians has taken a formal position endorsing euthanasia "in certain exceptional situations."

The doctors' group says euthanasia should be an option when a patient's death is "imminent or inevitable".

Dr. Yves Robert, secretary of the college, said patients and doctors would have to weigh the issue carefully before pursuing that option.

"The will of the patient is taken into account, the professional judgment is taken into account. When they agree together (...) a part of appropriate care could be euthanasia -- it could be provided," he said.

A recent survey showed nearly 75 per cent of Quebec's medical specialists believe euthanasia should be legalized under strict regulations, and many admitted they have seen it practiced in hospitals.

Robert said there is currently no provision for euthanasia in the criminal code, which means doctors could face murder charges -- even if it is a patient's will to die.

"Some of them, exceptional cases where an additional dose gives or provokes death, could be legally interpreted as being murder," he said.

Heated debate

Some experts say an endorsement of euthanasia is opening the door to disaster.

"This is open to incredible abuse, as there is no law that can cover all the situations, there is no law that can cover all the doctors," said David Roy, a professor at the University of Montreal.

Meanwhile, a bill on the issue is due for debate in parliament.

It was sponsored by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde, and seeks to legalize euthanasia for those in physical and mental distress.

Helene Bolduc, of the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity, said she is pleased to see the subject drawing new attention.

"It was a taboo before to talk about that. Now I think the parliament, the lawyers, nurses -- everyone is going to say we have to look at this issue," she said.