Members of Quebec’s national assembly passed Thursday controversial right-to-die legislation, a first in Canada.
Bill 52 passed with 94 MNAs voting for, 22 against and no abstentions.
It was a free vote, unbound by party lines. All those who voted no were members of the Liberal Party.
The law codifies how terminally ill get medical aid to die, strengthens living wills and enshrines patients’ right to palliative care.
The Quebec government believes the legislation will stand up in court because they consider it to be end of life health care, not assisted suicide.
Critics have said the law violates Canada's Criminal Code and have vowed to challenge it. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are against the law in Canada, but the bill, as proposed, would allow a doctor to administer lethal medication to a terminally ill patient if they have the approval of two doctors and fill out a consent form.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay in Ottawa Thursday mentioned issue of jurisdiction, and pointed out that the Harper government’s longstanding position on the issue is that the law is there to “protect Canadians.”
“We stand with and behind the current law,” he said.
Lisa D'Amico has cerebral palsy, and says the new law devalues the lives of those living with physical limitations.
“For me, it’s a slap in my face. Because they told me that now I have the choice of my death, but I (have) never made any choices regarding my quality of life” since she turned 18, she said.
“You feel like someone else is being allowed to make decisions for you.”
Dr. Paul Saba of Physicians for Social Justice said he believes the law won’t survive a court challenge.
“Euthanasia is not a medical act, Quebec does not have the jurisdiction to pass a law promoting euthanasia. Also it goes against doctor code of ethics. We are to treat people to relieve pain,” he said.
The West Island Palliative Care Residence released a statement Thursday afternoon saying “the new legislation will not change in any way the services it provides to terminally ill patients.”
The statement says the bill affords palliative care institutions and medical professionals the option to refuse to intentionally cause the death of a patient, as long as the patient is made aware.
“The residence will continue to act in the way it always has – to provide the best possible care and comfort, including symptom relief to the dying but without taking any actions that hasten the natural process of death,” it reads.
Parti Quebecois MNA Veronique Hivon first introduced the landmark bill last year, when she was the minister for social services and youth protection.
The bill, four years in the making, had already gone through multiple stages including two years of public hearings before it died when the PQ called an election earlier this year.
The Liberal government restored the bill during the first sitting of spring session.
“After all these years of work, of debates, of citizen involvement, I think we’re living a moment . . . that marks an unprecedented advance for compassion and human dignity,” Hivon said Thursday.