After a long debate: "Assisted Death" becomes legalized in the province of Quebec.

January 2, 2016

 

The practice, which allows terminally ill patients to ask for a drug to end their life, has already become a reality in hospitals of Quebec, the first Canadian province to adopt a law of this nature.

 

While assisted suicide is a form of euthanasia, those two concepts should not be perceived as synonyms, as the distinguishing element is not the way of doing it, but the "subject or person" that carries out that action.

 

In the process of "euthanasia", it is the doctor himself who injects the lethal dose to end the patient's life.

 

Unlike the process of "assisted death", where the performance of a health care assistant, a nurse or a doctor is reduced to just providing the patient with the necessary dose of drugs, while the patient himself consumes that lethal dose and therefore assists in his own death.

 

The Minister of Health of Quebec, Gaétan Barrette stated that the final decision for this procedure "continues to correspond exclusively to patients who want to make this determination".  It is the patient who must apply for this practice; after a medical examination where the doctor confirms that there is no possible treatment for patients with terminal and irreversible diseases.

 

The debate about euthanasia, assisted death or assisted suicide is not a new issue in Canada.

 The most notorious history goes back to the 1990s, with the case of an affected amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) woman.

ALS is a degenerative disease that affects the muscles, causing progressive paralysis that eventually leads to death.

 

Indeed, in 1993, Sue Rodriguez, a woman residing in the province of British Columbia, located on Canada's West Coast, failed to convince the High Court to allow her to seek medical assistance in order to help her to commit suicide.

 

Finally on September 30th  of the same year, the Supreme Court rejected the request of this woman by five votes against four votes in her favour.

A few months later, Rodriguez took her own life by appealing to the services of an anonymous doctor.

 

Following the above statement, the issue re-emerged in the wake of two other cases of ALS in the same province, although only one patient is still alive.

 

For decades euthanasia and assisted suicide have been topics of discussion in the world.

Recently, on October 5th, 2015, California became the sixth US state to approve a law permitting assisted suicide.

 

In the world only eleven nations give patients the access to the "death with dignity".

The countries that make this list are: the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and United States: California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.

 

In the case of Latin America the only country that allows such practice is Colombia, while Argentina and Uruguay recorded exceptional cases where this procedure was authorized.

 

The first country to legalize active euthanasia was Holland, with a law that took effect on January 1st, 2002 and exempted doctors from the prosecution. As long as the case applies to patients who are terminally ill, the longer it takes for the decision to be made leaving them subjected to unbearable suffering with no expectations for improvement.

 

Some European countries like the Netherlands and Belgium even consider an assisted suicide to be regulated as an attribution to medical professionals and nursing.

 

For its part, Switzerland permits physician-assisted suicide as an aid, where absolutely anyone can help another person to commit suicide without legal consequences and, moreover, it does not necessarily have to be done in a medical or nursing environment.

 

Now, let us return our attention to Canada with its Supreme Court that has been focused on the procedure of an assisted death. This topic generates until today quite strong polarization in the public opinion of the entire country, and even among the different provincial administrations and federal government.

 

The opposition to the law it is not minor, because until last month a group of doctors was seeking to postpone the application of the law of Quebec at least until February 2016. However, this group was dismissed by a judge of the Court Quebec Superior who voted in favor of the implementation of this new measure.

 

“Assisted dying” law was passed in Quebec in June 2014 by the Congress of the province, with a final result of ninety-four votes in favor and twenty-two votes against.

 

The legislation, which describes how patients with terminal illnesses can end their lives with a medical help, was adopted by the members of the National Assembly in June 2014 and became law on December 10th, 2015.

 

In conclusion we can say that the law has already taken effect, but there are two outstanding issues remaining:

 

- The first relates to the amendment of certain provisions of the Penal Code, which supports the decriminalization of assisted death in the compendium.

 

- And a second issue, that is up to us as individuals and citizens, involves the de - stigmatization of the legal measure, as well as of those involved: patients and medical staff. Because although our religions or cultural beliefs may be found in opposition to this law, we must understand that this measure is already part of our new era, representing a possible solution for terminal disease patients in the province of Quebec.

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