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Public consultations to be held on expanding medical aid in dying to mentally ill

Dec. 2019 file photo of Health Minister Danielle McCann. The minister says she will consult on expanding assisted dying to include mentally ill. Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. Jean-Vincent Verville/Global News

The Quebec government will hold at least one day of public consultations on the possibility of expanding access to medical aid in dying to people suffering from severe mental illness, Health Minister Danielle McCann said Thursday.

But opposition parties said the government was moving too fast on the file and warned that by modifying the law quickly, the province risked losing public trust on the sensitive issue.

READ MORE: Quebec to expand assisted death to include mentally ill, but few expected to qualify

On Tuesday, the minister suggested the Quebec College of Physicians would be responsible for overseeing changes to its guidelines to address patients with mental illness qualifying for the procedure.

McCann told reporters her department had planned for one day of consultations, at the end of February, but later in the day her office suggested it was open to extending the consultation period beyond that.

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“I am conscious we really need to continue to explain, to inform, to consult,” the minister said.

On Tuesday, the Quebec government announced it would comply with a court ruling last year striking down part of its medical aid in dying legislation — specifically the requirement that someone seeking medically assisted death be “at the end of life.”

The same Quebec Superior Court judgment invalidated the “reasonably foreseeable natural death” requirement of the federal Criminal Code.

Click to play video 'Assisted dying consultation' Assisted dying consultation
Assisted dying consultation – Jan 18, 2020

McCann asked the Quebec College of Physicians to draw up guidelines to expand medical aid in dying to include people with severe, incurable mental illness. But the college has said it doubted whether it would be able to respond by March, the deadline set by the court for governments to come up with new rules that adhered to its ruling.

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In light of the college’s concerns, Liberal member and former health minister Gaétan Barrette, along with the Parti Québécois’ Véronique Hivon, suggested the government needed more than one or two days of public consultations on the matter.

READ MORE: Quebec will comply with ruling that struck down assisted death provisions

Hivon, who started the legislative process for medical aid in dying years ago when the PQ was in office, said a fragile social consensus has been built on the subject, and going too fast would put that at risk.

“You can’t just be in a legal bubble,” Hivon told reporters. “Let’s take the time to do things properly.”

She said McCann could ask the court for a delay, saying the initial period ordered by the court to modify the law was too short.