OTTAWA, April 14 (UPI) — Canada is about to consider an assisted suicide bill that it says will allow doctors to follow their conscience while ensuring that patients have options.
The bill was expected to be tabled by the House of Commons for further discussion, but if it’s not signed into law by June 6, Canada will have no law regarding the controversial issue, except in the province of Quebec, which has had a law legalizing assisted suicide since December.
The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a criminal ban on assisted suicide in February 2015, ruling that in some circumstances, citizens had a right to seek a doctor’s help in allowing them to die. The ruling reversed a 1993 decision upholding a ban, and the court gave the government one year to introduce a new law. The Conservative administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper did little to further the effort, and when the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau became prime minister in late 2015, the court extended its deadline to June 6.
Although criminal law is a matter for federal courts in Canada, Quebec used its power over health care to establish an assisted suicide protocol.
Trudeau has said his support for assisted suicide, referred to in Canada as assisted dying, was formed in part by the last days of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who died in 2000 after suffering from prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the new bill “seeks to provide that balance between personal autonomy — recognizing the conscience rights of medical practitioners — and ensure that we do as much as we can to protect the vulnerable.”
A controversial suggestion in a report by a joint committee of Canada’s Senate and the House, tabled in February, suggested a three-year discussion to determine if mature minors and those with mental illnesses would qualify for assisted suicide help. It also recommended that any doctor refusing, on religious grounds, to participate in assisted suicide must refer the patient to a doctor willing to provide it.
It is likely the new legislation will pass in the House, which has a Liberal Party majority. In an unusual move, though, the party said it will not compel members to support the bill if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.