Court of Appeal hears arguments on assisted-dying law

Court of Appeal hears arguments on assisted-dying law

MONTREAL — Quebec’s assisted-dying law will remain in effect as judges from the province’s highest tribunal deliberate on a lower-court ruling aimed at suspending certain provisions.

Lawyers for the parties reiterated their arguments before three Quebec Court of Appeal justices Friday as to whether the landmark law should stand as is. The decision will come at a later date.

The legislation, which outlines how terminally ill patients can end their lives with medical help, was adopted by members of the national assembly in June 2014 and became law last week.

A Quebec Superior Court justice ruled in favour last month of a group of doctors who were seeking to postpone implementation of the law until at least February.

That judgment concluded certain provisions in the law run afoul of the Criminal Code, which prohibits assisted suicide.

However, the law took effect as planned on Dec. 10 after an appeals court justice granted the government the right to appeal that ruling. The government argued at that hearing the Superior Court justice had erred in coming to his conclusion without having heard the merits of the case.

On Friday, federal government lawyers sided with Quebec, reversing the position they’d defended under the Harper government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Quebec’s “responsible and rigorous” approach to assisted dying last week, noting the province established the kind of framework the Supreme Court has sought from the federal government and provinces.

Quebec government lawyer Jean-Yves Bernard echoed that same sentiment in arguing that the law had respected the Supreme Court decision from last February that declared the Criminal Code articles on assisted suicide unconstitutional.

Those arguing in favour of the temporary blocking of the end-of-life legislation reiterated their position that medically assisted death remains a criminal act until the federal government changes those provisions deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

They also tried to argue that medical help in dying infringes on the right to life enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec is the first province to pass such a law, arguing it is an extension of end-of-life care and thus a health issue, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Last February, the Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on doctor-assisted death and gave Ottawa a year to craft a new law.

The Liberal government is seeking a six-month extension on the court’s deadline which, if granted, would give it until August to come up with a new law.

Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press

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