Federal Bill C-407 was introduced by MP Francine Lalonde, regarding the right to die with dignity. This was the starting point for a deeply human fight, that had been taken on by her friend, Mrs. Hélène Bolduc, a trained nurse, a humanist, and an activist who advised her on this bill.
The Association québécoise pour le droit de mourir dans la dignité (AQDMD) was founded by Mrs. Hélène Bolduc, Mr. Yvon Bureau and Mr. Guy Lamarche. Mrs. Bolduc went on to become its first president.
From that moment on, the AQDMD led influential initiatives aimed at maintaining an active debate around the issue of medical assistance in dying (MAID). In just two years, the AQDMD became a major player, receiving a number of requests by the media to be interviewed on the matter.
A transpartisan parliamentary committee was created in Quebec to address the issue of dying with dignity. The mandate of this committee was to hold a general consultation on end-of-life conditions, palliative care, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Public hearings, held from 2010 to 2011, quickly demonstrated that Quebecers were ready to address this type of debate.
Hélène Bolduc presented an AQDMD brief before the parliamentary committee. This was a successful argument; most experts who were initially opposed to the project eventually changed their positions. A quiet revolution unfolded, thanks in part to touching testimonies that were regularly shared by the AQDMD.
The AQDMD intervened in the case of Mrs. Ginette Leblanc, who had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since 2007 and who requested medical assistance in dying before the Superior Court.
Well aware of the road ahead, Mrs. Leblanc had hoped to find a way to shorten her life, once her illness would become too difficult to bear. Medical assistance in dying was formally prohibited in Canada at the time, and Mrs. Leblanc died two years later without having been able to finish her fight.
The Select Committee tabled its report, Dying With Dignity. Both the media and citizens responded with overwhelmingly positive feedback. The conclusions were clear: Quebec parliamentarians were in favour of introducing a bill on end-of-life care that would include medical assistance in dying.
Quebec’s Bill 52 was passed, which led to the development of Act 2 (the current law addressing end-of-life care). This new law would allow a person who met eligibility criteria to receive medical assistance in dying (MAID).
Although this step was a victory, the AQDMD already knew that the project did not go far enough: the fight would have to continue so that people experiencing unrelieved suffering and incurable illness, who were able to get informed and choose to accept or refuse a treatment, could access medical assistance in dying—even if they were not in an end-of-life stage. To achieve this, however, the Criminal Code would have to be amended, a matter of federal jurisdiction.
In the Carter v. Canada case, in which the AQDMD was involved, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously invalidated certain articles of the Criminal Code on February 6, 2015 (most notably section 241) and recognized the right to receive medical assistance in dying (MAID) under certain conditions. The Supreme Court gave the Federal Parliament 12 months to amend the Criminal Code.
Bill C-14 brought an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and amendments related to other laws: medical assistance in dying was thus submitted to the House of Commons and the AQDMD presented a brief on this occasion.
The Special Joint Committee (Commons/Senate) on Physician-Assisted Dying tabled its report in the Canadian Senate and in the House of Commons. The law was passed in June 2016 and Canada thus became one of the few countries to authorize medical assistance in dying, under certain strict conditions.
A survey found that “three out of four Quebecers believe that people with Alzheimer’s disease should be able to request medical assistance in dying before losing their capacity to consent.”
In January, Mrs. Nicole Gladu and Mr. Jean Truchon filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Quebec. They challenged the unconstitutional nature of temporal criteria requiring a “reasonably foreseeable natural death” in the Criminal Code (section 241) and regarding “end-of-life” in Quebec’s Act 2. The AQDMD was involved in this lawsuit, which was brought forward by Jean-Pierre Ménard, Esq., with the assistance of Jean-François Leroux, Esq. “Because their deaths were not imminent,” these two defendants, who had suffered from incurable degenerative diseases for several years, had in fact been refused access to MAID.
In her September 11, 2019, decision, the Honourable Judge Christine Baudouin of the Superior Court of Quebec confirmed that the two legislative regimes (federal and provincial) determining who was entitled to medical assistance in dying were overly restrictive and discriminatory.
She gave both levels of government six months to change these laws to meet the standards set by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Quebec did not appeal this decision, nor did it modify the bill, instead stating that as of February 11, 2020, the “end of life” criterion would no longer be operational. It therefore became obsolete as a criterion for MAID eligibility.
The federal government did not appeal the decision, opting to amend the Criminal Code and submitting Bill C-7 to the House of Commons. The AQDMD submitted a brief and acted as a witness before two House of Commons and Senate committees.
In the same year, the AQDMD received a three-year grant from the Government of Quebec, as a community organization.
On March 17, Bill C-7 was passed by the federal government and finally abolished the “reasonably foreseeable natural death” criterion required to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. MAID thus became accessible to people with an incurable disease whose natural death was not deemed imminent.
In Quebec, a Select Committee on the Evolution of Act 2 was created. The AQDMD submitted a brief and was invited to participate in hearings before the Committee. The AQDMD especially supported the expansion of advance requests for MAID for people affected by a neurocognitive degenerative disease, and the expansion of MAID to include people whose sole medical condition is a mental disorder, according to clinical criteria that would be defined by experts.