Montreal Gazette

Ottawa says no to Quebec Criminal Code amendment expanding assisted dying


Ottawa appears to have rejected Quebec's demands for a modificati­on to the Criminal Code that would allow the province to expand medical assistance in dying (MAID) as early as this fall, the Montreal Gazette has learned.

In the National Assembly on Wednesday, Sonia Bélanger, the minister in charge of seniors, confirmed the province is seeking an amendment to the Criminal Code so it can forge ahead with its updated law on MAID that was adopted last June. Bélanger said she sensed some flexibilit­y on the part of the federal government, adding “they're open, but things aren't moving as quickly as we'd like.”

Under the Quebec law, patients in the early stages of dementia would be able to make an advance directive for MAID, to take effect when they are no longer mentally able to do so. Legally, this would require a change to the Criminal Code to avoid the prospect of medical practition­ers being charged with homicide for carrying out MAID under such circumstan­ces.

The province initially cautioned that its updated law could take two years to come into effect, but Bélanger and Quebec's minister of Canadian relations, Jean-françois Roberge, now say they want to move more quickly.

Asked what Ottawa's position is regarding Quebec's request for a Criminal Code amendment that would apply only to the province, a spokespers­on for federal Justice Minister Arif Virani suggested the Coalition Avenir Québec government may not have fully thought through the potential consequenc­es of its request.

“The criminal law applies across Canada, ensuring consistent standards nationwide,” Chantalle Aubertin said in an email. “This guarantees that individual­s across the country must adhere to the same rules, regardless of location, leaving no room for evading consequenc­es in different jurisdicti­ons.

“Which is why, in the case of MAID, it is important that all physicians and system actors meet the necessary standards, in all provinces, before we proceed,” Aubertin added.

A week ago, the federal government announced it was delaying plans by three years to extend medical assistance in dying to people whose sole medical condition is a mental illness. Federal Health Minister Mark Holland justified the delay by saying “the system needs to be ready. We need to get it right.”

On Thursday, the Quebec College of Physicians waded into the debate in support of the provincial government's plea for a Criminal Code amendment.

“In Quebec, there is a consensus regarding advance requests that allow individual­s suffering from cognitive diseases leading to incapacity, such as Alzheimer's, to record their wishes while they are still able,” the college declared in a statement. “To this end, amendments to the Quebec law on medical assistance in dying were adopted nearly a year ago. Making an advance request for MAID and defining the criteria under which it will be administer­ed is a matter of dignity for the vast majority of patients. These requests aim to reconcile the capacity to consent with the wishes and rights of the individual.”

Quebec was the first province to adopt MAID legislatio­n in 2015, prompting Ottawa a year later to pass its own law that modified the Criminal Code.

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD/CANADIAN PRESS ?? Federal Health Minister Mark Holland has justified the delay in expanding MAID by saying “we need to get it right.”
ADRIAN WYLD/CANADIAN PRESS Federal Health Minister Mark Holland has justified the delay in expanding MAID by saying “we need to get it right.”

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