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Quebec Doctor Administers First Legal Assisted Death in Canada

Euthanasia officially became legal in the province of Quebec last month following a tense legal battle over the law. The federal government is coming up with its own legislation that will apply to the rest of Canada.

by Rachel Browne
Jan 15 2016, 10:50pm

Right-to-die rally outside Supreme Court of Canada. (Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Health officials in Quebec City have confirmed that a patient there is the first to have been put to death legally by a doctor in Canada, according to news reports.

The spokesperson for health care in the region would not elaborate on the details of the case to CBC News, but confirmed that a second request for doctor-assisted death is pending. There could be more cases, but health authorities in Quebec are not obligated to report them.

Euthanasia officially became legal in the province of Quebec last month following a tense legal battle over the law, which critics argued might violate the federal criminal code. It's different from assisted suicide, which is when a doctor (or someone else) provides the patient with the tools to end his or her own life. A Quebec Superior Court had tried to block the province's Dying with Dignity law a few days before it came into effect, but its decision was overturned on appeal.

Under the Quebec law, terminally ill patients can request a doctor help them die, typically through injections, if they meet certain strict criteria and are approved by a team of health professionals.

News of the death in Quebec comes on the same day Canada's Supreme Court granted the new Liberal government a four-month extension to come up with its own assisted dying legislation. The Liberals had originally sought a six-month extension.

Related: Assisted Suicide is About to Be Legal in Quebec — And Some Pharmacists are Still in the Dark

"We do not underestimate the agony of those who continue to be denied access to the help that they need to end their suffering," the court's Friday decision reads. "However, neither do we underestimate the complexity of the issues that surround the fundamental questions of when it should be lawful to commit acts that would otherwise constitute criminal conduct."

This latest decision does not impact Quebec's law. Last January, the Supreme Court struck down the federal prohibition on doctor-assisted death in a landmark ruling and gave the government, then ruled by the Conservatives, one year to craft a new law, otherwise the court's decision would take over.

Under that ruling from 2015, only a "competent adult" can consent to terminate his or her life if they have a "grievous and irremediable medical condition."

In a media release on Friday following the Supreme Court's extension, advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) said it was "concerned" about the court's decision to delay its 2015 decision.

"Our patience is waning and our expectations are growing," said DWDC CEO Wanda Morris. "At this point, our movement will accept nothing less than a framework for assisted dying that serves patients' needs, not those of politicians."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne 

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