Care at the End of Life: New Developments in the Law

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A law called An Act respecting end-of-life care came into effect on December 10, 2015.

The law is meant to ensure, in particular, that people at the end of their lives receive care that respects their dignity and wishes. The law contains two important developments: 

  • the right to get medical help to die in some situations
  • advance medical directives

Medical Help to Die

The new law gives patients the right to get medical help to die.

Under the new law, only patients who meet specific conditions can get medical help to die. Here are some key conditions:

  • be an adult (18 or over) and able to make decisions about her own medical care
  • have a serious illness that has no cure
  • experience constant and unbearable suffering, and the suffering can’t be helped in any way that the patient decides is tolerable
  • be at the end of life

Only the patient can ask for medical help to die. The patient’s decision must be free and informed. Neither the patient’s doctor nor people close to the patient can make the decision.

Careful! Only a doctor can give a patient help to die. The law doesn’t let anyone else help a patient die. This can be a crime and lead to a long prison sentence.

 

Advance Medical Directives

The law creates a new way for people to express their wishes about future medical care, called advance medical directives. Note that people can still express their wishes about future medical care in other ways, such as in a protection mandate or a living will. But if a person has also made advance medical directives under the new law, health professionals must follow them.

Advance medical directives apply only to special medical situations and only if the person is no longer able to express his or her wishes. 

Advance medical directives can be recorded in a government register or in a person’s medical file so they can be easily found.

If they are in the register or medical file, health professionals must follow them.

If someone makes advance medical directives, and already has a mandate for incapacity with wishes that are different than the directives, health professionals must follow the directives.

Important!  Medical help to die can't be asked for in advance medical directives.

 

To Learn More

Visit the Quebec government website to learn more about advance medical directives and medical help to die.