Bill 52 was passed into law in Quebec, Canada on June 5, 2014 by a 94-22 vote with no abstentions. Also known as the ‘Dying with Dignity Law’, Bill 52 gives terminally ill residents of Quebec the option to end their life with the assistance of a medical professional. Veronique Hivon, the Parti Quebecois member of the National Assembly who originally drafted the bill explained, “Dying with dignity means dying with the least amount of suffering.”.
Under this new law, patients who meet the required criteria may request their doctor prescribe them a lethal dose of medication. The new law states the patient must be diagnosed with an incurable disease and experiencing unbearable suffering which cannot be relieved through any other acceptable means, and be “of full age and capable of giving consent to care”. Lawmakers reiterated ‘Dying with Dignity’ applies to “competent adults only”. Although additional requirements include the patient be “at the end of life”, it is left vague and open to interpretation. While physician-assisted suicide is now legal in Quebec, other Canadian provinces are currently engaged in heated debated regarding the right to die. The act of physician-assisted suicide made legal in Quebec is not to be confused with voluntary euthanasia. In assisted suicide, the patient must take the final step by self-administering a fatal dose of medication prescribed by their doctor, as opposed to voluntary euthanasia in which the doctor administers the life-ending dosage, typically through an injection or IV, as in the case of Dr. Kevorkian. Before becoming legalized, physician assisted suicide was an act punishable in Quebec by up to 14 years in prison. The Canadian Supreme Court banned assisted death in 1993 in the case of a woman from British Columbia, and in 2010 the House of Commons voted against a proposition to legalize the act by a large margin. In May 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada opened the issue back up for debate due to an appeal in another British Columbia case.
When drafting the bill, lawmakers used Europe’s end of life legislation as a guideline, hoping to make a few improvements to prevent facing some of the issues many European countries have encountered after passing Right to Die laws. In Belgium, where both assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, there is no requirement that the patient must be near death before choosing to end their life with medical aid. This caused the law to be reexamined when 45 year old deaf twins, who were beginning to lose their eyesight, sought physician-assisted suicide when they decided their quality of life was becoming so poor they had no choice but to end it. Only a week before Bill 52 passed in Canada, Belgium passed a law which extends euthanasia rights to children under the age of 18, with parental consent and clearance from a mental health professional. The Netherlands also passed a law in 2002 which extends End of Life rights to children as young as 12.
In the United States, Washington, Oregon, Vermont and Montana have legalized physician-assisted suicide with the stipulation that the patient must be diagnosed by two physicians as being terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months or less.