TORONTO - Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she's willing to talk to her provincial and territorial counterparts about assisted suicide when she meets with them Friday, but insists Ottawa has no intention of legalizing it.
"I will take part in the conversation," she said Thursday. "It's an important conversation to have, and of course all of us have had these conversations around the kitchen table."
Several health ministers gathered for a conference in Toronto said there should be a national discussion about the emotionally-charged subject, but wouldn't say whether assisted suicide should be legalized.
"What I can say collectively is that there are many standing here that are torn on this matter and believe that this is a conversation whose time has come," said Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald.
"That doesn't mean that they are fors or againsts. I think that there are people standing here — and certainly in my province — that believe we should be having a national conversation about this."
Manitoba doesn't have a position on whether assisted suicide should be legalized. But the conversation about it must be "entrenched in compassion," she said.
The ministers were briefed by Quebec's health minister about his government's right-to-die legislation, the first of its kind in Canada. If passed, it would outline the conditions necessary for someone to get medical assistance to die.
"They were very interested of what's going on in Quebec and very interested in following ... the evolution of this bill," said Quebec Health Minister Rejean Hebert.
Hebert's presentation was interesting in how Quebec has addressed the issue, putting it in very specific medical terms and developing criteria, he said.
Like many provinces, Alberta doesn't have a firm position yet on assisted suicide, said Fred Horne, the province's health minister.
"Canadians are already talking about this," Horne said. "They expect their elected officials to be listening and following the discussion."
Assisted suicide has been debated for decades, but the taboo topic resurfaced recently after a prominent doctor made an impassioned, videotaped appeal to legalize it just a few days before his death.
Eight days before he died from a brain tumour at age 68, Dr. Donald Low, who guided Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis, asked that Canada allow people to die with dignity.
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said Low would be "tickled pink" that he succeeded in renewing the debate.
"I think that this is a conversation that people need to have," she said. "I don't think it's a government decision right now."
The Canadian health ministers are scheduled to continue their conference Friday in Toronto, where the provinces will likely press Ambrose to reverse funding cuts to health care services to refugees, among other things.
In their communique, the ministers said they had "serious concern" about the cuts, which could cost them millions of dollars.
"Some vulnerable patients in need of care have found it difficult to access adequate treatment while hospitals and other health-care providers have assumed costs that had previously been borne by the federal government," the communique said.
Ambrose said the decision to change the benefits was based on fairness, "that refugees were receiving benefits that no other Canadian receives — taxpaying Canadian."
She said she will speak to the provinces about what benefits refugees can still access and ask them to keep track of any additional costs that they're incurring.
"Canada is a very compassionate country, and those that need emergency care are not going to go without it," Ambrose added.
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)