Assisted dying is now legal in Canada, California and a few other US states, but remains illegal in the UK, despite public opinion polls to the contrary. Physician assisted suicide was rejected by British MPs in a decisive vote last September, but the push to reconsider the euthanasia issue hasn’t gone away.
Assisted Dying Law Just Passed In Canada
In Canada, the so-called assisted dying bill was passed by Parliament Friday in a move that continues to ignite controversy. In passing the legislation, Canada joins a small group of countries where physician-assisted suicide is legal, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Albania, Colombia, and Japan.
Along with the expected arguments against the idea of physician assisted dying, according to reports in the BBC, those who are critical of the new law claim that it is too limited in scope and won’t, for example, help those with degenerative conditions such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Canada’s assisted dying bill contains a restrictive clause that does limit physician assisted suicide to cases where death is imminent. As reported by the CBC, the Canadian Senate sought to attach amendments that would have loosened that limitation to include those cases of degenerative disease. However, in the end the Senate passed the assisted dying bill as is to allow for it to go through the final vote in Parliament. The assisted dying bill was approved in a vote of 44-28.
Many say the new law as a compromise that Canadian legislators can build on and amend over time. Liberal Senator Jim Munson called it “just a start for Canada,” and is quoted by the CBC.
“Better to have a bill than no bill at all.”
Physician-Assisted Dying Still Illegal In The UK
In contrast, assisted dying is still illegal in the UK, where a doctor involved in a physician assisted suicide is looking at up to 14 years in prison. An assisted dying bill was put before the British Parliament last fall but was voted down by MPs in September. According to The Independent, the proposed legislation, which was dubbed Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, represented the first time in 27 years that euthanasia had been debated in British Parliament.
There was a large and concerted movement by those opposed to the bill and it seems to have paid off, with the assisted dying bill defeated by a vast majority of British MPs. However, in voting down the bill decisively 330 to 118, many have accused MPS of being out of touch with their constituents, who have shown a consistent support for physician assisted dying in polls.
The drive to enact assisted dying legislation, however, remains alive and has the public support of many public figures. Recently, prominent physician Sir Richard Thompson came out in a statement to the Telegraph in favor of assisted dying. Sir Thompson is the former president of the Royal College of Physicians and was private doctor of Queen Elizabeth II for more than two decades.
“We as a profession, as doctors are there to help people – if necessary – die.”
Assisted Dying In The US
Somewhere between Canada and the UK on the issue, in the United States, the legality of assisted dying (also sometimes known as “aid in dying,”) depends on where you live.
On June 9 – about a week before the bill became law in Canada – California joined Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and Vermont as the fifth state to allow legally assisted suicide. The laws don’t always look at the euthanasia issue in the same way. In Montana, for example, physician assisted suicide is essentially decriminalized if the patient has made a written request, among other stipulations.
As reported in the New York Times, assisted dying became a prominent issue in California after the highly-publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to take advantage of their assisted suicide law. Like most other jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal, in California, the practice is limited to those patients facing a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live.
With the growing acceptance of assisted dying solidifying throughout North America and extending through Europe, how long can UK legislators continue to hold out against public opinion?
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