Bioethics Blogs

MIND THE GAP: Physician-Assisted Death in Quebec

Jocelyn Downie warns that Quebec’s legislation will leave some physician-assisted death legal but unregulated.


In June 2014, the Quebec National Assembly passed An Act respecting end-of-life care, which will come into force in December 2015. Under the Act, “’medical aid in dying’ means care consisting in the administration by a physician of medications or substances to an end-of-life patient, at the patient’s request, in order to relieve their suffering by hastening death.” In order to obtain medical aid in dying under the Act, a person must:

29(1) be an insured person within the meaning of the Health Insurance Act (chapter A-29);

(2) be of full age and capable of giving consent to care;

(3) be at the end of life;

(4) suffer from a serious and incurable illness;

(5) be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and

(6) experience constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering which cannot be relieved in a manner the patient deems tolerable.

On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the Canadian Criminal Code prohibitions on physician-assisted death (including both physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia) violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court then suspended the effect of that declaration for 12 months to give the federal, provincial, and territorial governments time to design and implement a regulatory framework for physician-assisted death. As a result, on February 6, 2016, the Criminal Code will no longer prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who:

(1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and

(2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.