After months of work, medical professionals have devised a set of guidelines that will allow terminally ill patients to end their lives.
By the end of this year, euthanasia will be legal in Quebec, after the government passed Bill 52 last June.
The College of Physicians has come up with a list of steps to guide medical professionals through the process and is beginning the task of training them.
The procedure will include a cocktail of drugs that will sedate a patient, induce a coma and finally stop their breathing.
“It will be prescribed by the physician within a scope of drugs, and it will be a kit that will be prepared for each patient on an individual basis,” explained Dr. Yves Robert, secretary of the Quebec College of Physicians. “We're going to meet psychiatrists, family physicians, the long-term care facilities and teams, the social workers, the nurses.”
Quebec is the first province in Canada to legalize the right to die, and it could establish a framework for other provinces, said healthcare lawyer Jean-Pierre Menard.
“This kind of regulation can be applied in other provinces, because when we worked to establish that frame, we tried to do it on the competence of the health area so those regulations can be applied anywhere in Canada,” he said.
To prevent abuse, Bill 52 only allows doctors to administer the 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.
Bioethicist Dr. David Roy thinks the guidelines are still too vague.
“One of the areas where medical judgment is fragile is on the prediction of death. There's a lot of uncertainty about who is going to die when,” he said.
Even though patients can decide up until the last minute whether to go through with the process, Roy believes the first few months will pose some legal questions.
“What happens if the patient lapses into a state of unconsciousness and is no longer able to withdraw?” he posited.
Doctors also have a right to refuse to administer the drugs for moral or ethical reasons.
“According to the Quebec law, he must request to the health institution responsible for that patient and the authorities for that institution will have to find another doctor,” said Menard.
A detailed set of guidelines will be made available for healthcare professionals online in the coming weeks.
As of Dec. 10, doctors will be able to administer euthanasia kits.