Doctor-Assisted Suicide in Canada: the Next Step

The general press is reporting that the Liberal majority in Canada has drafted proposed legislation to establish the conditions under which physician-assisted suicide (PAS) would be legal.  Per the Canadian Supreme Court’s order last year that PAS is allowed in Canada, the Parliament has until June 6 to pass it, or the Court’s prior order would come into force.  This would effectively leave judgments of when or how to carry out PAS in Canada to individual doctors or regional governments.  The province of Quebec had already acted separately in support of PAS.

It is reported that the proposed law:

  • ·       Would apply to people age 18 or older with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions;
  • ·       May not be clear about whether people with dementia or degenerative diseases would be eligible;
  • ·       Would require a 15-day waiting period after review of the patient’s written request by two physicians or nurses;
  • ·       Would apply only to Canadians (those eligible for services in the Canadian health care system—no “suicide tourism” allowed;
  • ·       May not be clear about whether conscientious-objecting doctors will be allowed to opt out of participation (the Health Minister says yes, but some health-care workers worry that the law is too vague on this point, or that complicity will be unavoidable);
  • ·       Could not be used in advance to create a directive to carry out PAS at some future date.

I and other contributors to this blog have written extensively against PAS.  I will not rehearse those arguments again here.  My guess is that this provision in Canada will become law. 

Wesley Smith adds the criticism that the Canadian law, by protecting suicide-assisters from legal liability if they act in good faith, eliminates any guarantee that the process will be limited to those who freely and voluntarily request death.  There is too much wiggle room.  

I would add this worry:  active euthanasia by physicians or nurses appears to be included.  From the bill (text can be found here):  

“medical assistance in dying means

(a) the administering by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, that causes their death; or

(b) the prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their own death. (aide médicale à mourir)” [emphasis mine].

“People get ready, there’s a train a’comin…”

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