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Quebec tables legislation to allow advance requests for medical assistance in dying

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The Quebec government has tabled legislation that would allow people with incurable diseases to make advance requests for medical assistance in dying in the event they become incapacitated.

The main change in the bill tabled on Thursday by the junior health minister for health and seniors, Sonia Bélanger, applies to people suffering from a "serious and incurable" illness that could make them incapable of consenting to medical care.

They would be allowed to make an advance request for medical assistance in dying that would apply if they become incapacitated.

"If I am diagnosed with Alzheimer's today, I could, with this bill, make a request to specify my expectations and wishes when my situation deteriorates," Bélanger explained during a news conference in Quebec City.

"Let's take the example of Alzheimer's disease, which ultimately leads to incapacity. It was not possible to make the request once you had passed a certain stage of the disease. So, the early application makes it possible to do that. We want people to have a say in the type of end of life they want."

Bélanger added that the bill will also make it possible for people living with a "severe and incurable neuromotor disability" to request medical assistance in dying if the criteria are met.

"We will certainly have the opportunity to discuss this with the groups during the consultations and with my fellow MNAs, and we will take the time to do so. This is a delicate, sensitive issue that must be approached humanely, but also in light of the evolution of our society and the evolution of science," she said.

Additionally, palliative care homes and private hospitals will have to offer medical assistance in dying as part of their care. The legislation also allows specialized nurse practitioners to carry out the entire process of medical assistance in dying in the same way as physicians.

"Also, we want to allow nurses to officially declare death, not just at the time or in the process of medical aid in dying but in various areas of care," Bélanger said.

The federal government is proposing to expand eligibility to patients who only have mental disorders, but the Quebec bill specifies that people who have only from mental disorders will remain ineligible.

An earlier version of the legislation failed to pass before the legislature was dissolved ahead of the October general election.

The commission overseeing end-of-life care in the province said in its annual report in December that 3,663 Quebecers received an assisted death between April 2021 and March 2022, representing 5.1 per cent of all deaths in the province. That was a 51 per cent increase in medically assisted deaths compared with the previous year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2023. 

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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