TORONTO - Canadians need to have a debate on whether or not to legalize assisted suicide, whether the federal government wants to deal with the issue or not, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.
The video from the late Dr. Donald Low pleading with Canada to do a better job in dealing with end-of-life issues has sparked debate on a topic on the minds of many, added Wynne.
"I think Dr. Low raised, in a very powerful and personal way, an issue that is on the minds of many people across the country," she said.
"I think this is a national discussion that every one of us as citizens of this country is going to have to think about. It's about human beings deciding what kinds of choices they believe that they should have."
Wynne said she had heard the audio but had not viewed the video by Low, the calm public voice during Toronto's SARS crisis in 2003, which was taped just eight days before he died from a brain tumour last week at age 68.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in Winnipeg Thursday that the Conservative government has no desire to change the Criminal Code to legalize assisted suicide.
"It is my considered opinion that the federal government should not open up this debate as it pertains to changes to the current laws in this country that are there to protect people," said MacKay.
"I know that there are a variety of opinions and deeply held moral opinions about this, but we are not going there. We are not going to open up a debate."
Wynne scoffed at the federal reaction, and said the Conservatives can't ignore the fact that people are talking about what she calls a very challenging ethical issue, in part because of Dr. Low's video pleading with opponents of assisted suicide to reconsider.
"A federal government may decide that it doesn't want to have the discussion, but the fact is that human beings are going to be having this discussion, and that is what Donald Low has put on the table," she said.
"So it will be, I believe, a national discussion."
The premier said she "hasn't landed" yet and is still having an internal debate on assisted suicide, and suspects most other Canadians are as well.
"For me personally, it is a debate within myself about choice, and safety and how do we empower the medical community or not, and that is a very challenging ethical and human discussion that's going to have to happen across the country," said Wynne.
"I think probably my own conflicted view of the whole discussion reflects the public discourse on it."
Aging baby boomers want more control over end-of-life issues and the country needs to engage in a debate to see if the law banning assisted suicide should be changed, added Wynne.
"I'm a baby boomer and I know that this generation has wanted to have a lot of control, and so that's why I think this is going to be a very conflicted and difficult discussion, but one I think everyone in the country is going to have to pay attention to," she said.
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said the issue of assisted suicide is not on the agenda for a meeting with her federal and provincial counterparts next week, but she "would be surprised" if it doesn't come up.
"I'm not pushing for any legislative change, but I am pushing for a discussion," said Matthews.
The Quebec government is already holding public hearings on its legislation which would outline the conditions necessary for someone to get medical assistance to die. The federal government plans to review it.
Related on HuffPost:
Euthanasia In Canada
Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide Not A Crime
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-Assisted Suicide Illegal
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year.<br><br> The <a href="http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-113.html#h-79" target="_hplink">Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241</a> that:<br><br> "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada.<br><br> The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodriguez_v._British_Columbia_(Attorney_General)" target="_hplink">Sue Rodriguez</a>, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability.<br><br> Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another.<br><br> The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Latimer" target="_hplink">Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy</a>. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.<br><br>The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. <br><br>Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Bills To Legalize
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation.<br><br> Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: <br><br> "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."<br><br>(CP)