Physician-Assisted Dying: Ottawa in court for further delay

(Montreal) The delicate subject of medical assistance in dying was back in a Quebec court Friday morning: Ottawa tried to convince a judge – for a 2 e times – to grant it a few more months to bring its legislation into conformity with the judgment which has widened its accessibility.

Stéphanie Marin

The Canadian Press

If this federal request is accepted, it means that people who are suffering and waiting for medical aid in dying will still have to … wait.

Justice Frédéric Bachand of the Superior Court heard the federal petition Friday morning at the Montreal courthouse.

He believes he will be able to give his judgment early next week.

Last September, Judge Christine Baudouin of the Superior Court had invalidated, and declared unconstitutional, the criteria of provincial and federal legislation requiring that citizens be at the end of their life, or that their death be reasonably foreseeable, in order to be able to seek medical assistance in dying.

In doing so, the judge opened medical assistance in dying to a greater number of people, such as Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu, these two Quebecers suffering from serious incurable degenerative diseases, who led this legal battle during in recent years.

The magistrate had, however, maintained the valid laws for a period of six months, in order to give the federal and provincial governments time to modify them in accordance with her judgment.

In the meantime, the criteria preventing certain people from seeking medical aid in dying remain valid.

Ottawa had asked for an initial delay to complete its bill tabled in February – it had then explained that the federal elections had resulted in the suspension of Parliament – and obtained it until 11 July.

He now wants a second one: this time, he invokes the COVID pandemic – 19, who also interrupted parliamentary work, including the study of bills. He requests five more months, until 18 December 2020.

“This time, it is the pandemic which is the exceptional circumstance which alone justifies the extension”, argued M e David Lucas, for the Attorney General of Canada.

Parliament needs time to properly study the bill, he argued, especially for such an important issue for society.

In fact, he said, it is only a question of 10 more weeks for Parliament because it will not be sitting before 21 September.

Justice Bachand expressed concern that he did not see in the documents of the federal government a firm commitment on his part to have the bill adopted within the requested time.

After the hearing, Mr. e Lucas explained to journalists that the world is not immune to a second wave of COVID – 19 and that the government, being a minority, does not control everything.

He also argued that those who cannot wait can go to court to be authorized to obtain medical assistance in dying, a possibility given by Judge Baudouin in her judgment.

For its part, the Government of Quebec has instead chosen not to touch its “Act respecting end-of-life care”, declaring that the “end-of-life” criterion would be ineffective from 12 March. His lawyers therefore did not make representations on Friday.

The lawyers for Mr. Truchon – who has since availed himself of medical assistance in dying – and for Ms. me Gladu did not contest the request for delay additional.

“We understand the pandemic context, which is unpredictable. But five months is a long time, “said M e Jean-Pierre Ménard to the judge.

It leaves people in a really painful position, he said.

And if some were able to receive medical assistance in dying with the authorization of the court, they had to pay the costs associated with legal proceedings.

The Collective Dying with dignity and freedom wishes the judge to say no to this request for an extension of five months, “out of humanity and compassion” for those who are suffering and who were waiting for the 11 July impatiently. A shorter period of two months would be sufficient, he judges.

He suggests that the parliamentary committee studying the bill meet virtually this summer to continue its work, so that it is ready for the start of the session in September.