A New Law on Care at the End of Life


On June 5, Quebec's National Assembly adopted a law called An Act respecting end-of-life care. In the media and elsewhere, the law has also been called the "dying with dignity" law.

As its name suggests, this law deals with the right to end-of-life medical care. Among other things, the law creates a right to get medical help to die in some situations.

Important! The law is not yet in force. This means that the rules explained below don't apply yet.

What Is Medical Help to Die?   

It means that a doctor can give medication that would end the life of a patient. The request to give this medication would come from the patient, to relieve suffering.

Under the new law, only patients who meet these criteria can get medical help to die:

  • be an adult (18 or over) and able to make medical care decisions
  • insured by the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (health insurance board)
  • suffer from an advanced state of irreversible decline
  • have a serious illness for which there is no cure
  • the physical or emotional suffering is constant and unbearable, and the suffering can't be helped in a way that the patient decides is tolerable

Before a patient can get medical help to die, two doctors must make sure that the patient's decision is free and informed. This means that the patient

  • had a chance to discuss the decision with anyone he or she wanted to contact,
  • knows about treatment options available,
  • is not under pressure from anyone, and
  • made the request at several different times during various meetings with a doctor.

All these conditions must be met to grant a patient's request. Also, a doctor can refuse a request for other reasons, including the fact that giving help to die goes against the doctor's beliefs. If a doctor refuses, steps will be taken to find another doctor who is willing to carry out the request.  

Not Everyone Agrees With This Law  

The law was accepted by 94 members of Quebec's National Assembly. Only 22 voted against.  

But many other people do not agree with the law: a group a doctors has announced that they will challenge it in the courts. These doctors think that some parts of the law go against a section in Canada's Criminal Code that says assisted suicide is illegal. They also think that it is beyond the powers of the Quebec government to create this law because it crosses over onto the federal government's responsibility for criminal law.

Medical help for dying is also in the news outside Quebec. The Supreme Court of Canada will soon be hearing a case about the section of the Criminal Code on assisted suicide. It is not clear what impact a decision in that case will have on Quebec's new law.