Medically supervised euthanasia may soon become accessible in Quebec, which would make the province the first in Canada to legislate on the highly controversial issue.
A bill to be tabled on Wednesday is expected to legislate the right to request "medical aid to die" in response to a report that argued that, since medical assistance is used to prolong life, dying patients should also be able to ask for it under strict conditions to end life.
The proposal was the centrepiece of a report entitled Dying with Dignity that was tabled in March, 2012. It was prepared by a non-partisan select committee that consulted widely on the issue.
The opposition Liberal Party has indicated support in principle for the idea, but a party official said that, given the sensitive nature of the debate that will likely ensue, the caucus will examine the contents of the bill carefully before adopting a final position.
The co-chair of the committee, Véronique Hivon, who was an opposition Parti Québécois MNA when the report was tabled, argued that the request to die must come from the patient only and be supported by the medical opinion of at least two doctors.
Ms. Hivon, who is junior minister of social services, drafted the legislation. It is expected to embrace the select committee's proposal that the law stop forcing patients to endure long painful deaths.
The committee insisted that it was not proposing a form of assisted suicide, but rather an end-of-life protocol that would define in legal terms the practices physicians currently use for terminally ill patients and give people who are terminally ill the right to request them, which they do not have now.
While euthanasia is illegal under the federal Criminal Code, the wording of the legislation is expected to ensure that it stays within legal boundaries.
The select committee's report recommended that only those with full mental capacity who have a serious and incurable disease with no hope of improvement should be allowed to make the request.
The committee also proposed that the process be rigorously monitored. For instance, a person requesting medical assistance to die would need to submit a signed form that would be reviewed periodically with the assistance of the patient's doctor, who must also sign the form and obtain a second opinion from an independent physician.
The committee argued that such a practice would be much more humane than sedating patients into unconsciousness until they die.
A poll taken by the committee last year showed that 74 per cent of the 6,600 people in Quebec surveyed supported some form of medically assisted euthanasia.