Canadian PM advances Bill to legalise physician-assisted suicide

Legislation to apply to adults with ‘a grievous and irremediable medical condition’

The government of prime minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday that will legalise physician-assisted death for Canadians with serious medical conditions. The supreme court of Canada overturned a criminal ban against assisted suicide in February 2015 and had given the previous government led by Stephen Harper one year to introduce a new law. But his Conservative Party strongly opposed assisted death and did little to deal with the looming legal void. After Mr Trudeau and his Liberal Party came into power in autumn, the supreme court extended its deadline until June.

Although criminal law is a federal matter in Canada, when it became apparent that the Conservative government was not acting on the court’s ruling, Quebec used its powers over healthcare to introduce a provincial assisted-dying system late last year. Since the ruling, judges in other parts of Canada have also given individual patients permission for assisted deaths.

Last year, the court concluded that it was unconstitutional to deny the option of assisted death to consenting adults who had “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” that has brought on “suffering that is intolerable”. The court’s unanimous decision was a reversal of its 1993 ruling upholding the ban on assisted deaths.

Personal perspective

Mr Harper’s government, backed by some religious leaders, vigorously challenged any attempts to legalise assisted dying. But Mr Trudeau had a very different position. The prime minister said early in 2015, while he was still in opposition, that his support for doctor-aided deaths had been informed by the final days leading up to the death of his father, former prime minister


Pierre Elliott Trudeau

. The former leader died in 2000 after declining aggressive treatments for prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

It is likely that the new legislation will pass, given the Liberal party’s strong majority in the house of commons. But, in an unusual step, the party will not require its members to support the Bill. A few Liberal members of parliament have said that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

What may be difficult, however, is approving the legislation by June 6th, the date on which the current criminal prohibition expires. Rona Ambrose, the acting Conservative leader and former health minister, emphasised this week that her party hopes the legislation can be scrutinised before any parliamentary vote. – (New York Times)