Canadian House of Commons Approves Assisted Suicide Bill

Photo Credit: Mighty Drake
Photo Credit: Mighty Drake

OTTAWA — The Canadian House of Commons approved an assisted suicide bill on Tuesday, sending the legislation on to the Senate.

MP’s voted 186-137 in favor of Bill C-14 mainly along party lines, with some urging that its constitutionality be sent to the Canadian Supreme Court for review.

“Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes the autonomy of persons who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes them enduring and intolerable suffering and who wish to seek medical assistance in dying,” a preamble to the legislation reads.

“Whereas persons who avail themselves of medical assistance in dying should be able to do so without adverse legal consequences for their families—including the loss of eligibility for benefits–that would result from their death…”

The bill sets stipulations that physician assisted suicide may be permitted for those who are at least 18 years old, have a “irremediable medical condition,” have made a voluntary request without pressure to end their life, and sign a form giving their consent. It also removes any criminal penalties against physicians or pharmacists who assist in the person’s death.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed support for the bill, opining that it strikes a balance between the wishes of terminally ill patients and providing safeguards against abuse.

“We understand that this is the beginning of a conversation that will go on for the coming years as court cases, evidence, concerns, and doctors evolve in their thinking as we approach this. However, this is a big step. It needs to be taken right, and that is exactly what Bill C-14 does,” he said.

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“There are people who think we should have gone further with this bill. There are people who think we already went too far,” Trudeau also acknowledged on Saturday.

Groups such as the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition characterize the legislation as being “particularly dangerous.”

“The bill requires a medical or nurse practitioner to: be of the opinion that the person meets all of the criteria. To ‘be of the opinion’ is a very low standard. It will be impossible to prove that the medical or nurse practitioner was not of the opinion that the person met all of the criteria,” Executive Director Alex Schadenberg wrote in a blog post.

“It is unbelievable that legal immunity is provided to anyone. This bill provides the perfect cover for acts of murder,” he said.

The Physician’s Alliance Against Euthanasia has also expressed its opposition to the move. The group says that emphasis should be made on palliative care and not suggesting to patients that death is their only answer.

“The waltz of words continues, as we malign palliative care by presenting ‘medical assistance in dying’ as the only alternative to an agonizingly painful death,” it wrote in a recent post. “We are already far from the idea that was sold to us when this debate began: from proposing death for a few exceptional cases, we’ve reached the point where it’s considered ‘health care’ like any other.”

“[T]he federal government casts a wide net in its list of lives that are not worth living, including people with a serious and incurable disease, condition or disability, those losing autonomy and those with persistent physical or psychological suffering ‘that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable,'” it said.

A rally organized by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Living with Dignity Network and Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia is scheduled for today on Parliament Hill. The event is headlined “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Are Not The Answer.”

Bill C-14 is the result of a unanimous Canadian Supreme Court opinion that current law providing criminal penalties for those who take part in ending the life of another should be amended to allow some adults with terminal and “intolerable” conditions to request assistance from their doctors.

“[W]e do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot ‘waive’ their right to life. This would create a ‘duty to live,’ rather than a ‘right to life,’” the court said in regard to a complete ban on the practice, “and would call into question the legality of any consent to the withdrawal or refusal of lifesaving or life-sustaining treatment.”

The court gave Parliament until June 6 to enact a new law in light of its declaration.


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