The Quebec government is backtracking on its plan to expand medical aid in dying to include people with severe and incurable mental illness.
Health Minister Danielle McCann made the announcement on Monday as a forum on the issue is being held in Montreal, saying the government needs to take more time before expanding the criteria of the law.
“We are taking a pause,” she said.
The decision comes after the province heard concerns from citizens, according to McCann. She said the Quebec government must hear from the public, experts and caregivers in order to obtain a social consensus on the issue.
“We will implement a period of consultations and reflection on this sensitive and complex question,” she said.
The public consultations — which McCann said last week would last at least one day — will now last as long as it takes to reach that consensus.
Quebecers who suffer from serious degenerative diseases causing significant physical suffering that cannot be resolved by doctors and who meet the other criteria will still have access to medical aid in dying, according to McCann.
McCann introduced the provision last week, saying people with severe mental illness who aren’t responding to treatment could qualify for the procedure as of March 12.
However, she explained at the time that such cases would be exceptional. Those who apply would first have to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, and the delay to receive a medically assisted death would be much longer.
The provincial government introduced the provision as part of its compliance with a court ruling that struck down parts of Quebec’s medical aid in dying legislation last September.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin invalidated sections of both the provincial and federal laws, ruling they were too restrictive. Two Quebecers suffering from incurable degenerative diseases brought the case forward after they didn’t meet the criteria for assisted death and their requests were denied.
The ruling declared the province’s legislation, which states people must “be at the end of life,” is unconstitutional.
‘Brave move’ by Quebec
Quebec’s decision to postpone expanding assisted-death legislation to those with mental illnesses is being met with positive reaction.
Dr. Diane Francoeur, president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, described McCann’s decision as a “brave move.” She said the health minister listened to the public’s concerns.
“We thought it was a good thing that we take some time to discuss with the population,” said Francoeur, saying the sensitive issue does not belong to physicians.
Lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard, who took the case to Quebec Superior Court, said he is pleased with taking more time to study the provision. The change needs to be examined before it is implemented, he added.
“It’s a very complex situation and it is very difficult to find a simple solution,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian Press