Québec funeral home offers physicians 'private room' to perform assisted suicide procedures

Complexe funeraire Haut-Richelieu owner Mathieu Baker admits his mother opposed the idea and didn't talk to him for a month.

Québec funeral home offers physicians 'private room' to perform assisted suicide procedures
Facebook/ Complexe funeraire Haut-Richelieu
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A Québec funeral home is filling the void for people looking to end their lives but for a fee.

Complexe funeraire Haut-Richelieu owner Mathieu Baker told the CBC he is renting a private room for people using doctor-assisted suicide at $700 minimum. The cost does not include euthanasia, which is fully covered by Régie de l'assurance maladie (RAMQ).

According to Baker, patients select a 'custom arrangement' as their physician performs the procedure, which includes a dedicated space featuring couches, candles, plants and artworks. It is the first facility of its kind province-wide.

"It is a very personal act that should be respected and done properly," he said.

"Do you want to watch a movie? Do you want a glass of wine? Some people want to be in groups of four or five, and we've had groups of up to 3 people."

Across Québec, assisted suicides have torpedoed since the procedure became legal, from 63 in 2015/16 to 3,663 in 2021/22 - the highest proportion of any province in Canada. According to the 2021 Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) annual report, Canadians accessing the program increased from 2016 to 2021, totalling 31,664 patients, typically above 70, with health complications.

A man whose father-in-law received the assisted suicide procedure at Complexe Funeraire Haut-Richelieu told CBC, "It allowed us the time…to say goodbye."

But Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada Executive Director Mike Schouten told True North that relaxing safeguards on the procedure permits facilities to profit from tragedy, including funeral homes.

"In only seven years, Canada has secured one of the most expansive euthanasia and assisted suicide regimes in the world," said Schouten. "Canadians must continue to advocate for helping others to live well, rather than further normalizing assisted death."

The funeral home owner admitted his mother opposed the idea and didn't talk to him for a month. "She didn't agree that her son was doing this in the family business," Baker told La Presse.

A freedom of information request by Patricia Maloney uncovered that general practitioners and medical specialists charged taxpayers $5,880,162 for euthanasia services in Québec last year. 

Québecers paid $674,102 for consultations lasting 15 minutes and $2,333.692 for supplementary 15-minute consultations. Patients also paid $350,000 for the procedure and additional fees to cover administrative costs, forms, visits and recurring consultations.

In 2021/22, assisted suicide accounted for nearly 5% of deaths in Quebec. "There is a craze for this mode of end of life," Dr. Claude Rivard, who offers euthanasia to eligible patients, told La Presse.

On the legality of the procedure, the Parti Québécois sought clarification on section 4 of the Medical Assistance in Dying Act, which specifies that a person may request end-of-life care "in a facility maintained by an institution, on the premises of a hospice, or at home."

The term "institution" includes "any institution referred to in the Act respecting health services and social services that operates a local community service centre, a hospital center or a residential and long-term care centre."

Seniors Minister Sonia Bélanger said while "funeral homes are not named in the law," she clarified the role of the bill is not to list places eligible to perform the procedure.

PQ MNA Joël Arseneau claims permitting assisted suicide in funeral homes is 'unlawful' and deviates from Bélanger's intention behind the ending-of-life legislation. 

"What is the legal opinion that allows the minister to say that Article 4 is respected if one is not in an institution, a palliative care home or at home?' he asked the minister. "Funeral homes are not violating the current law, but what we want to do is prevent slippage," replied Bélanger.

"Restricting promotion doesn't solve the problem. On the contrary, it's as if the minister allowed these companies to contravene the law, and that's where I can't follow her," said Arseneau.

"Several questions may arise, and we will take the time to validate," Bélanger's spokesperson told the CBC. "The important thing is to put people's wishes first while ensuring that the proposals are not part of a monetization of the practice."

After assisted suicide became legal in 2016, a Québec court expanded access after judges ruled the "reasonably foreseeable" death clause unconstitutional. 

In 2021, Ottawa permitted anyone with "a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability" who is in "an advanced state of irreversible decline" to access MAID — not including the mentally ill. However, the Senate permitted those with "irremediable" mental illness to access the procedure in a controversial amendment that passed later that year.

Justice Minister David Lametti tabled legislation in 2023 to delay access until March 2024. He lauded the importance of providing the medical community more time to develop adequate guidelines.

Some advocates for assisted suicide have called for more expansions to the procedure, including for critically ill infants and "mature minors" aged 14-17, with the consent of their parents.  

A recent poll found that among Canadians, Québecers support the current "status quo" on doctor-assisted suicides.

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