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Quebec expects its doctors to respect assisted death ruling

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MONTREAL—Doctors must respect a court ruling suspending Quebec’s assisted-suicide law but the government won’t go on a “witch hunt” against physicians who offer palliative sedation, the province’s health minister said yesterday.

Gaetan Barrette said while he recognizes some doctors in Quebec inject morphine into patients during their last hours of life in order to sedate them to ease pain, he can’t recommend physicians continue to do so.

But “there won’t be any lawsuits [against doctors] in Quebec,” he stressed.

“I can’t ask people to disobey the judgment,” Barrette said. “What I’m saying is that the position of Quebec hasn’t changed.

“We will not go on a witch hunt against doctors.”

The health minister added his government is planning to appeal the Quebec Superior Court decision, which suspended part of the province’s legislation outlining how terminally-ill patients can end their lives with medical help.

Barrette said the ruling “brings us back to six years ago,” when doctors were injecting morphine into dying and suffering patients, which technically was illegal as the country’s Criminal Code bans assisted suicide.

The controversial medical practice sparked a years-long debate which culminated in Quebec’s doctor-assisted dying law, which was adopted unanimously by members of the legislature in June, 2014 and was set to become law on Dec. 10.

A Superior Court justice granted an injunction on Tuesday, however, to a group of doctors opposed to the legislation.

The province has to wait until after the federal government amends the Criminal Code and crafts new lesgislation recognizing the right of clearly-consenting adults with enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s prohibition on physician-assisted dying earlier this year and gave the federal government until February to come up with a new law.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard suggested yesterday it’s only a matter of time before Ottawa amends the Criminal Code and allows the province to proceed.

“The Quebec approach is seen as a model [by Ottawa],” Couillard noted.

“And certainly the federal government, in the decision they have to take, will be inspired by our approach.”

In Ottawa, federal Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she doesn’t want Quebecers getting the idea her government is in confrontation mode vis-a-vis Quebec—despite the fact Ottawa intervened against the province in the Superior Court case.

“It’s not anything confrontational,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters. “It’s just ensuring we proceed in the most appropriate way.

“We are going to work to see how we can continue to move forward in a way that embraces the work Quebec has undertaken,” she pledged.

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