Quebec euthanasia law looms on the horizon.

Quebec euthanasia law looms on the horizon.

July 7, 2014

Quebec physicians face moral and legal quandaries as their province prepares to implement its new euthanasia law contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada.

The law, dubbed innocuously An Act Respecting End of Life Care, is not slated to go into effect for another year to 18 months, but already Quebec doctors who want answers concerning malpractice insurance have no certainty whether they will be covered in cases involving euthanasia.

Dr. Valerie Brousseau, secretary of the Physicians' Alliance Against Euthanasia, said she phoned the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) which provides malpractice insurance for doctors across Canada.

Brousseau asked the CMPA whether she would still be covered if she refused to perform euthanasia and refused to tell Quebec authorities of the request so the individual could get a referral.

The Quebec law will not force doctors to kill patients, but it does legally require them to report the request to the administrator running their health organization.


"Will the CMPA cover me, because I could be potentially sued for not divulging or refusing to perform euthanasia?" Brousseau said she asked.

She said she also asked, "If I do perform euthanasia and there is an issue with the family and a family member decides to sue me, saying there was not appropriate evaluation and this is actually murder, would they cover me?"

"They could not answer," Brousseau said.

But even worse than the threats of civil lawsuits is threat of criminal prosecution.

"This law goes against the Criminal Code," she said. The Quebec government has legislated in an area that's federal jurisdiction.

In a scrum in early June with journalists, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay stressed Parliament in 2010 has already voted on the issue.

"There was a clear majority at that time that supported upholding the existing laws, upholding the Criminal Code sanctions, and it's not our intention to reopen the debate," he said in early June.

MacKay refused to indicate if the federal government would take Quebec to court over the new law.

Brousseau said there seems to be a "complete denial" that this law clashes with federal jurisdiction.

The law gives people a "right to die," something that exists in no other country and is against United Nations charter of rights, she said. Charters generally uphold the right to life.

"The right to die does not exist," she said. But Quebec, in "making it a right, is putting an obligation on physicians."

Many physicians fail to understand what this obligation means; those who do know it means, "I have an obligation to kill," she said. "Those who understand are really scared."

Brousseau also criticized the way the government "avoids naming a cat a cat," by refusing to use the word "euthanasia," and thus manipulates popular opinion and physicians.

The MNAs and many physicians may have thought this law will only affect a small number of physicians who work in palliative care.


Another misconception is the law will not attract people from out of province to avail themselves of euthanasia. "Anyone with a long-term disability who wants to be euthanized can cross the border in Ontario or New Brunswick, get an apartment, get a (health care) card and that will be it."

As a head and neck surgeon, Brousseau treats patients who suffer from head and neck cancers, "an awful cancer to live through" that can leave patients with difficulty speaking or eating. She knows she could be affected by requests under the bill.

Living with Dignity executive director Nicolas Steenhout agreed "doctors are between a rock and a hard place."

They will be split between having to respect their code of ethics, and respecting the law in Quebec and the law in Canada, he said.

Steenhout also decried the misleading nature of the law. "They've just transformed euthanasia into health care."