Bill 52 revived by Liberal government
QUEBEC — In a highly-unusual move, Bill 52, An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, which died on the order paper when the April 7 election was called, has been brought back in the new session of the Quebec National Assembly.
The bill, the result of five years of cross-party work, mostly between the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Liberals, but with active support from the Coalition Avenir Québec and Québec Solidaire — all four parties represented in the National Assembly — was recalled Thursday in a motion adopted unanimously.
And Jean-Marc Fournier, who as government house leader proposed the motion, added another innovation.
As a rule, a bill bears only the name of the minister who presents it, in this case Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.
But in recognition of her work, first in proposing committee hearings on the idea in 2009, when the PQ was in opposition, then acting as deputy chair of that committee and, as a PQ minister after the 2012 election, presenting it, Bill 52 will also bear the name of Véronique Hivon.
As a rule within the British parliamentary system, in force in Quebec, when an election is called, all legislation that has not been adopted dies, leaving the new government with a clean slate.
At a joint news conference Thursday, Barrette and Hivon, joined by CAQ MNA Sébastien Schneeberger and Amir Khadir, of Québec solidaire, expressed the hope Bill 52 would finally be passed in the short assembly session that began on Tuesday.
Barrette said the bringing back of Bill 52 was “a great day in the parliamentary life of Quebec.”
Hivon said the return of her bill, which gives Quebec residents over 18, capable of making choices, “a continuum of care” from palliative care to medical assistance to die, marks “another day of hope.”
Medical aid to die is only allowed in exceptional circumstances when a patient is suffering from an incurable serious illness, is in “an advanced state of irreversible decline” and is suffering “constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain which cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.”
The bill was in its third and final reading debate and was about four hours from passage when the Liberal opposition did not agree to a PQ proposal to continue the debate on Feb. 20, after the PQ budget was presented. That was the last sitting day of the 40th legislature.
Fournier explained that in bringing it back as it was Feb. 20, there will be about eight more hours of debate, allowing newly elected MNAs to have their say.
That debate would likely be next week or the following week, assuming a June 5 budget, which will preclude consideration of any other business before the June 13 adjournment as the budget becomes the only item on the assembly agenda.
Hivon said the Quebec population is “largely in favour” of Bill 52.
Barrette said he is confident the government would win court challenges on its validity.
“It’s their right to go ahead,” Barrette said. “But I’m not very worried.”
While Hivon was the legislator who pushed for the bill for five years, Barrette in his former role as president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, also played a key role in advocating for its adoption.
Hivon described the minister as “one of the biggest fans of the bill.”
Barrette recalled that his federation and the Collège de médecins were very preoccupied with the problem of medical aid to die, which some considered a crime under Canada’s Criminal Code. Doctors said the issue was one they had to deal with “every day.”
Bill 52 gets around the Criminal Code by treating medical aid to die as a medical issue, within provincial jurisdiction.
Barrette said in 2009 that his federation and other medical associations ordered polls to find out what Quebecers thought, and found overwhelming support.
“It had to be done,” Barrette said. “It was the right thing to do.”
But some medical doctors and others with religious beliefs that ending a life is wrong remain opposed to Bill 52.
In a news release, two groups called Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, which they say represent over 625 physicians and 17,000 citizens, denounced the re-introduction of Bill 52 and promised a legal challenge of the law’s constitutionality, arguing its aim is to “decriminalize euthanasia.”
Private radio stations have been carrying ads saying Bill 52 would allow lethal injections to end the lives of children. Barrette and Hivon noted medical aid to die is only open to persons 18 and over.
“It won’t happen,” Barrette said, when asked whether he would agree to medical aid to die for a 16-year-old who met the other conditions under the bill.
On second reading of Bill 52, half the 50-member Liberal caucus voted against it.
All parties say there will be a free vote on the bill. Hivon and Barrette said they are confident it will be adopted
Bill 52 revived by Liberal government