Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying

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The Collège des médecins du Québec addresses disability and reiterates its position on infants aged 0 to 1
  • Disability: The Collège emphasizes the urgency of aligning federal and provincial laws so that patients in Quebec benefit from the same care offered elsewhere in Canada.
  • nfants aged 0 to 1: The Collège notes that medical assistance in dying could be considered in exceptional circumstances, when the infant has no hope for survival and their suffering is unmanageable.

Montreal, November 18, 2022 – Today, the Collège des médecins du Québec (CMQ) was heard by the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying in Ottawa to share its opinion on disability and medical assistance in dying. The Collège seized this opportunity to clarify the interpretations circulating about its position on this care for infants aged 0 to 1.

Neuromotor disabilities

The Collège believes that disabilities cause in some patients suffering that is as intolerable and unmanageable as is the case of certain illnesses. It is of the opinion that the physician must, as well as verifying that all the criteria required by law are present, appropriately assess their relative importance in relation to one another to determine with the patient the most appropriate care.  On the medical front, mental and physical suffering can be clinically assessed through direct observation, a questionnaire, or a clinical examination. 

Inequity for Quebec patients

Furthermore, the Collège believes it is essential to align Canadian and Quebec laws on the concept of disability, because the eligibility criteria of the Act respecting end-of-life care are more restrictive than the Criminal Code, meaning that patients from Quebec are exposed to health care inequity.

In fact, since the end-of-life eligibility criteria has been removed, both laws now recognize neurodegenerative diseases and irreversible neurological disorders as conditions likely to lead to medical assistance in dying. However, Canadian law uses the terms illness, disease, and disability, while Quebec law uses only the term illness. This difference in the terms used restricts the access to care for some patients who could use this care elsewhere in the country. The Collège is of the position that there cannot be two laws for the same suffering. 

Infants aged 0 to 1

On October 7, 2022, the Collège appeared before the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying, and stated its position on medical assistance in dying for infants aged 0 to 1. In fact, the Collège simply restated what it had already made public in December 2021 when it published its position on broadening access to medical assistance in dying. 

Since then, organizations and lobby groups—that oppose medical assistance in dying—have drawn the attention of media all over Canada and misquoted the Collège claiming that it is in favour of administering this care to seriously ill babies or those born with a disability or an intellectual disability.

Again, the Collège reiterates that medical assistance in dying can be appropriate care for babies who are experiencing extremely severe suffering that cannot be alleviated, or have severe deformities or severe polysymptomatic syndromes annihilating any prospect of survival. The Collège is of the opinion that parents should, under specific circumstances, be permitted this choice of care for their child.

“Today, it is important that the Collège set the record straight regarding its position on medical assistance in dying for infants aged 0 to 1. We cannot ignore that those infants are also patients and they should have the right to this care, if requested by their parents, in cases of unmanageable suffering and when there is absolutely no prospect of survival,” explained Dr. Mauril Gaudreault, president of the Collège des médecins du Québec. 

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Last update: November 18, 2022