The COVID-19 crisis is killing thousands of people, but it will also delay the deaths of a few. The federal government is preparing to request a further postponement, at least until September this time, of the application of a judgment expanding medial assistance in dying.
According to information obtained by The duty, Minister of Justice David Lametti has decided on the deadline he intends to claim from the Quebec Superior Court and will make it known to the parties concerned by the beginning of next week. Certainly, it will be at least two and a half months, that is until mid-September, but very probably more.
“Under the motion establishing parliamentary business during the pandemic, we cannot debate bills that are not related to COVID-19,” said a government source. However, the Parliament will resume its work in regular form as soon as possible from September 21 It is therefore not possible to adopt a new law before October, at least.
Last fall, the Quebec Superior Court concluded that the Canadian system authorizing assisted dying is too restrictive because it disqualifies people whose death is not “reasonably foreseeable”. Justice Christine Baudouin invalidated this criterion and gave Ottawa until March 11 inclusive to change its law. Justin Trudeau’s government had asked for and obtained a stay until July 11 on the grounds that the fall election had cut the time available to come up with a legislative response.
Ottawa introduced a bill in late February, but did not have time to pass it before the coronavirus pandemic struck and detailed regular parliamentary business. The C-7 would allow non-dying people to claim assisted dying, subject to a 90-day time limit between the request and the execution of the request. Conversely, for those at the end of their life, the bill would abolish the 10-day wait that is in effect at the moment. In addition, the bill would allow end-of-life patients to obtain the death they claimed even if, pending its administration, they lost the ability to give final consent. It would be enough to have signed, with their initial request, a “waiver of final consent”.
The bill would not provide assistance in dying to minors and those suffering solely from mental illness, nor would it authorize advance directives. C-7 is still in the early stages of parliamentary debate: it has not yet been studied in committee and must also be approved in the Senate.
The case at the Quebec Superior Court was led by Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu, two Quebecers suffering from serious incurable degenerative diseases. Mr. Truchon died in April in the CHSLD where he lived, having obtained assistance in dying (the stay did not apply to the two applicants). In a posthumous message, Mr. Truchon explained that he had hastened his departure, initially scheduled for June 22, because the pandemic would in any case prevent him from saying a final goodbye to his loved ones.
“The coronavirus literally stole my time with those I love,” he wrote. Seeing what’s coming frightens me the most. So I made the decision to leave now. “
Justice Baudouin, who will hear Ottawa’s request for an extension, may refuse to grant it. In this event, the “reasonably foreseeable death” criterion would no longer hold in Quebec, but would continue to be in force in the rest of the country.