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Canadian government to introduce new assisted suicide law tomorrow

13 April 2016

PM Justin Trudeau has previously said he believes assisted suicide should be legal

Canada’s Liberal government is widely expected to unveil new legislation on assisted suicide tomorrow, in a move that could threaten the safety of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, has said in the past that he believes assisted suicide should be legal. Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, died in 2000 after being diagnosed with both prostate cancer and Parkinson’s Disease.

"He didn't want to go through the kind of aggressive treatments that might have been there for his cancer, but would have degraded significantly his health and his lucidity in his final months," Justin Trudeau told a Canadian radio programme in 2015.

Supreme Court ruling

In February 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Criminal Code ban on assisted suicide. The ruling decreed that Parliament must come up with a new law within one year, applicable to “competent adults with a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering and who clearly consents to ending his or her own life.”

Two months ago, the court granted Trudeau’s government a four-month extension to draft a new law, giving ministers a deadline of 6 June.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justice Minister, insisted yesterday that the government has been working “thoughtfully” on how to legalise assisted suicide, but refused to discuss specifics on the content of the bill.

Controversy over committee's report

No details on the new law have been officially revealed yet, but unnamed sources have indicated that the final draft will not contain some of the more controversial measures recommended by the parliamentary committee set up to study the issue.

The committee’s report, issued six weeks ago and entitled Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach, shocked many by recommending a number of radical proposals. Among these, the committee argued that minors and mentally-ill people should not be exempted from any new legislation, and should be eligible for assisted suicide.

The committee also recommended the implementation of advance directives for people diagnosed with non-terminal but potentially debilitating illnesses such as dementia. Advance directives are used to facilitate euthanasia.

Public opinion turning against proposals

A poll published at the beginning of this month showed that although a majority of Canadians support so-called ‘assisted dying’ in principle, their attitudes drastically changed when presented with the committee’s proposals.

78 per cent of those surveyed in the weeks after the committee’s report was released said that “psychological suffering” on its own should not meet the criteria for a doctor-hastened death.

"Complete alarm"

Dr Dawn Davies, a palliative-care physician in Alberta, said she has heard “nothing but complete alarm” over the prospect of allowing assisted suicide for children experiencing psychological distress.

“I just don’t think you would find anyone willing to participate in physician-assisted dying for psychological suffering under the age of 18,” she added.

"A step in the right direction"

Michael Cooper, Conservative MP and one of the committee’s vice-chairs who argued for a limited scope on assisted dying, said if the anticipated bill excludes minors, advanced directives and people with mental illnesses, “then that is a step in the right direction.”

"Nothing liberal about assisted suicide"

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's Director of Communications, commented:

"This bill is being promoted by the Liberal Party, but there is nothing liberal about assisted suicide. To be liberal in the proper sense is to be generous in order to make life flourish.

"Assisted suicide is based on the ungenerous, anti-life prejudice that some people's lives are not worth living and that therefore those people are better off dead. Under a regime of assisted suicide, the sick, the disabled and the elderly will be deprived of the liberty of living in a society which values them equally with other people."

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