Quebec Court Expands Assisted Suicide Eligibility

Authored by Deina Warren

The requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to access assisted suicide was struck down as unconstitutional by a Quebec Superior Court judge yesterday.

In Truchon c Procureur general du Canada, 2019 QCCS 3792[i] Justice Baudouin held that reasonable foreseeability criteria is too restrictive and is discriminatory; it deprives individuals of autonomy and a choice to end their lives how and when they see fit; and it denies ‘the right’ to have a dignified death.

The two claimants in the case, Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu have cerebral palsy and post-polio syndrome, respectively. Their arguments that both the federal legislation[ii] and provincial legislation[iii] violate their section 7 Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person as well as their section 15 Charter right to equal treatment under the law[iv] were accepted by the court.

The ruling is suspended for six months, and will not be effective until March 11, 2020. The claimants Truchon and Gladu were granted an exemption that allows them to obtain assisted suicide in the interim. The Quebec Minister of Health, Danielle McCann, and Justice Canada are reviewing the decision, but neither have indicated what next steps they may take, such as whether the decision will be appealed. In response to a report[v] from the Commission on End-of-Life Care in Quebec released in earlier this year, Minister McCann indicated she was open to broadening criteria for assisted suicide.[vi]

You may be thinking, “well, what does this have to do with me and my charity?” and that’s a fair question.

As a community of faith-based charities, we need to understand the social, cultural and legal landscape in which we operate. Does your charity actively engage in a sector directly impacted by this decision?[vii] Have you thought through your positions and policies on the matter? Do you have any policies that need to be revised or strengthened? Do you have a strategy in place if those positions and policies are challenged?

Even if there is no direct or immediate impact on your organization, it should give us pause for reflection. As a church, this news may prompt you to equip members to respond to assisted suicide with a biblically informed ethic; as a charity serving the elderly, this may inform your programs and outreach; as a mission to support individuals with disabilities, this may redouble your efforts to affirm God-given human dignity. And most of all, as a community of faith-based charities, this ought to move us to prayer.

[i] The decision is currently only available in French. In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the absolute prohibition on assisted suicide, deeming it unconstitutional insofar as it prohibited physician-assisted death for a competent adult who clearly consents and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual, see Carter v Canada, 2015 SCC 5, at paras 126-127.

[ii] Sections 241.2(1), (2) of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985 c C-46 set out the eligibility criteria for assisted suicide. Section 241.2(1)(c) makes a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” one of the standards, which is further defined in s 241.2(2)(d) to be one where “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.”

[iii] Section 26(1) of the Act respecting end-of-life care, SQ 2014 c 2 requires that a patient must, among other things, “be at the end of life” to obtain assisted suicide.

[iv] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, online: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html.

[v] The report is available only in French. For a summary of the report, see Health Canada, Fourth Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada (25 April 2019), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/health-system-services/medical-assistance-dying-interim-report-april-2019.html

[vi] Québec can only amend provincial legislation and any changes proposed by the provincial Minister of Health would be confined to that province.

[vii] Even if the decision is appealed and ultimately overturned, these are questions and issues that will continue to arise and it is prudent to be pro-active.

Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.