Canadian PM calls to legalize assisted suicide

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau © Toru Yamanaka
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hopes the long-awaited bill allowing physician-assisted suicide passes in parliament before the June 6 deadline. Otherwise, Canadians would have “uneven access” to euthanasia, he said.

“There will be people who by many objective criteria should have access to medical assistance in dying will not be able to because practitioners will be concerned there isn’t any legal framework or protection for them,” Trudeau told reporters.

He added there will be “other people in different areas of the country who will have access to it when again according to fairly objective criteria, they should not have access to medical assistance in dying.”

The prohibition of assisted suicide was challenged by the Canadian Supreme Court in 2015, following a case of two women who suffered from severe neurological conditions. The court ruled that provincial courts can approve applications for euthanasia until the new law passes and gave the government time to prepare the bill. It ordered the deadline on June 6.

In compliance with the court decision, Bill C-14 was tabled in parliament by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in April 2016. The legislation will restrict assisted suicide only to mentally competent adults who have enormous sufferings. It also allows a 15-day reflection period.

Canadian MPs are scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday and Tuesday. If approved it will go to the Senate, which has one week to pass the legislation.

“I am still hopeful that we’re going to be able to reach the June 6 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court,” Trudeau said. “We’re certainly working hard towards that. And I have confidence that the more independent and thoughtful Senate is going to do right by the responsibilities that Canadians expect it to.”

Trudeau added he has heard from many medical practitioners and organizations who are very concerned “that what it’s going to result in is very uneven access” to assisted dying across Canada.

The only province that allows euthanasia in Canada is French-speaking Quebec. Bill #52, passed in 2014, states people can request medical aid with dying in case of “an incurable disease, which is causing unbearable suffering.”

Passed before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the bill was decried by the federal government as illegal.

The euthanasia debate has been a hot topic overseas in Europe, with a children’s euthanasia bill being signed into law by Belgium’s king in March 2014.

The suicide of an 86-year-old couple in France in November 2013 reignited the euthanasia debate in the country. While the practice remains illegal, doctors can refrain from using treatments, which is deemed a form of “passive euthanasia.”