The Province of Quebec is preparing to defy the law against assisted suicide later this year with new regulations that would allow medical doctors to help end the lives of terminally ill patients who are nearing death.
The spark for the bold move was a decision last year in a British Columbia court, which ruled it was unconstitutional to prevent sick and dying people from asking for medical help to end their lives.
The court's judgment was suspended while the federal government appeals to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but the case is undoubtedly destined for the Supreme Court of Canada.
It means Quebec's plan would be illegal, but the province is getting around the law by simply directing its Crown attorneys not to prosecute cases of doctor-assisted suicide. The province did the same thing during the abortion debate, allowing doctors to terminate pregnancies for 12 years before the law was changed.
A majority of Canadians support the idea of assisted suicide, but Quebec should delay its plans pending a decision by the Supreme Court, which could well uphold federal opposition to euthanasia.
A patchwork system on such an important and complicated issue is not an ideal situation, and it opens the door to other provinces to nullify federal laws they don't like by simply directing prosecutors to turn a blind eye.
It's unfortunate the courts must decide the question, but Parliament, including members of all parties, have continuously refused to change the law to allow those who are diagnosed with a serious illness, and who are experiencing intolerable suffering with no chance of improvement, to end their lives.
Under the Quebec plan, patients seeking an assisted death would have to be demonstrably competent and free of clinical depression. A committee of doctors would have to agree the patient is suffering and terminally ill.
A waiting period would also be imposed.
These are reasonable measures for what ultimately should be a patient's decision. In fact, there is something cruel and inhumane about forcing people to live in pain against their will when they are still capable of making rational decisions.
The universal ban against assisted suicide is paternalistic and abusive, which ultimately is a personal choice, too.
Doctor-assisted suicide, then, is not an assault on life, but an affirmation of the right of the suffering to go with peace and dignity.