Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation to the Canadian parliament that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for those suffering serious medical conditions. His proposal would limit such physician-assisted deaths to those covered under Canada’s national health care system, preventing a surge in suicide from other countries. In the United States, assisted suicide is legal in only a few American states, including Oregon and Vermont.
If the law is passed, people seeking death would be enabled to either commit suicide with drugs provided by their physicians or have them administered by a physician. Family members would be permitted to assist loved ones in seeking death. The Liberal Party, to which Trudeau belongs, is currently in the majority and thus assures that the bill should pass. However, the current government has promised to study the issue further and may make changes if the bill is passed. At a news conference in Ottawa today, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said, “For some, medical assistance in dying will be troubling,” while adding, “For others, this legislation will not go far enough.”
In its current draft, the bill would allow only adult Canadians to commit suicide who are suffering a serious or terminal medical condition. Physicians will not be required to assist suicides, but would be required to refer Canadians to other physicians who do. Suicides will only be permitted following assessments by two independent physicians.
If the bill passes, Canada will join Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany in allowing doctor-assisted suicide. In February 2015, Canada’s high court ruled against a criminal ban against assisted suicide and ordered the Conservative government under former premier Stephen Harper to introduce a new law within one year. The Canadian Supreme Court concluded that it was unconstitutional to deny assisted death to consenting adults who had “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” that has brought on “suffering that is intolerable.” It thus reversed a decision it made against assisted death back in 1993.
Harper’s government, backed by the Catholic Church and other religious groups, vigorously opposed the legalization of assisted suicide. Harper and the Conservatives did not advance the court’s mandate. Criminal law is a federal in Canada. Once it became clear that the Conservative government was not acting on the court’s ruling, Quebec’s provincial government used its powers over health care to introduce a system for assisted dying there. In other parts of Canada, judges gave permission on an individual basis for assisted death.
Trudeau had long been an advocate of assisted suicide and vowed to introduce legislation once he gained office as Prime Minister. When he and the Liberals came to power last year, the Supreme Court extended the deadline to June 2016. Trudeau’s party will not require its members to support the legislation. A few Liberal members of Parliament have said that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
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