On December 1st, Justice Michel Pinsonnault of the Quebec Superior Court ruled that articles in the Quebec law permitting euthanasia in the province – which was to come into effect on December 10th- are in conflict with the Criminal Code of Canada. This law was adopted in Quebec’s national assembly in June 2014. The judge’s decision results in a delay in the implementation of euthanasia in the province.
The case launched by Dr. Paul Saba, head of the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice and Lisa D’Amico, a woman with disabilities, sought an injunction against the Quebec law.
The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits euthanasia and assisted suicide. The federal laws are still in force until February 2016, the timeline set by the Supreme court in its decision in the Carter case. The February 2015 Supreme Court ruling permits assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Court suspended its decision for one year and said Parliament could enact legislation if it so chooses. In February 2016, the ban on these practices would no longer be valid.
Justice Pinsonnault ruled that the federal law in this matter takes precedence over the provincial law and since the federal laws are still in force, the Quebec legislation cannot come into effect. Articles in the Quebec law are incompatible with articles 14 and 241b of the Criminal Code of Canada. As long as the prohibitions in the Criminal Code contained in sections 14 and 241b are valid, a physician euthanizing a patient would be committing a criminal offence under the law.
He refuted the claim of the Quebec government that ‘medical aid in dying ‘ was a provincial jurisdiction since it was health care. Graeme Hamilton of the National Post reports:
“Pinsonnault writes that Quebec cannot resort to a euphemism to skirt criminal law. “It must be concluded at this stage that ‘medical aid in dying’, in the present context, corresponds prima facie to the euthanasia of a human being at his express request….Adding the word ‘medical’ to the expression ‘aid in dying’ is alone not enough to protect provincial legislation that is incompatible with federal criminal legislation, he writes.”
‘Medical aid in dying’as the Quebec government calls it is in fact euthanasia even if some members of the national Assembly steadfastly refuse to admit it. The Quebec law permits the administration of a lethal injection by a physician to end a person’s life if certain conditions are met.
CTV News reports that Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée said : “There is a clear difference between euthanasia and medical aid in dying. “. No, so called ‘medical aid in dying’ is euthanasia. Changing the words doesn’t change the reality.
The Quebec government has indicated that it will appeal the decision.
Last week, the federal government announced that it was seeking from the Supreme court of Canada an extension to its February 6th deadline.