Lawmakers in Canada proposed legislation on Thursday to legalize physician-assisted suicide for residents of the country with dire or incurable health conditions. The new law limits the option specifically to Canadians and residents who participate in the country’s health care system.
As reported by the New York Times, the physician-suicide law would allow some terminally-ill patients to take life-ending medication prescribed by a doctor or have the doctor administer the deadly dose. A patient’s family member can also provide assistance with the death as well.
The new bill is likely to be passed by Canada’s House of Commons. Once the legislation becomes law, the government has committed to continue studying the impact of assisted suicide and make any necessary changes to the program.
“For some, medical assistance in dying will be troubling,” said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Thursday. “For others, this legislation will not go far enough.”
The proposed legislation will be limited to mentally competent adults and does not allow someone to request physician-assisted suicide prior to developing a terminal medical condition. The law also excludes Americans who travel to the country to die.
Doctors will not be forced to assist in a patient’s death, but they must refer the individual to another physician who offers the option. To get a doctor’s help, a written request must be made from the patient or an authorized individual if the patient is incapable.
The request will have to be reviewed by two independent physicians or nurse practitioners. Unless death or loss of mental capacity to consent is imminent, there is a compulsory 15-day waiting period.
“This will have a positive, significant impact on the lives of Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “It is important to respect the choices made by Canadians.”
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against a ban on assisted suicide in February, 2015, reversing its previous prohibition on the option. Fearing elderly, disabled, or incompetent patients would be taken advantage of, the court initially banned the practice in 1993.
Last year, the high court changed position on the issue by saying a doctor would be capable of evaluating the competence of patients and prevent any potential misuse of physician-assisted suicide. The court also ruled the ban denying someone with a serious or terminal condition the option of ending life early was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The decision gave the government one year to create new legislation authorizing the option. However, the issue got tied up in debate and no new law ever came about. Nonetheless, the high court extended the deadline to June.
In the United States, only Oregon, New Mexico, Washington, Montana, and Vermont permit physician-assisted suicide. Starting in June, California residents will also have the option.
In Oregon, the first state to approve suicide assistance, a terminally-ill patient must be of sound mind and show proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or voter registration card. The state does not require a minimum residency, so it is unknown how many patients moved to Oregon specifically to die.
Legislation in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg permit physicians to euthanize terminally-ill patients whose health problems are deemed hopeless and causing severe pain.
Until Canada’s law is passed, it is illegal for doctors to counsel a patient or participate in an assisted suicide and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years if caught doing so. A survey conducted in August indicated that an overwhelming 77 percent of Canadians support physician-assisted suicides.
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