OTTAWA — The Trudeau government won't be taking a permissive approach to medically assisted dying in long-awaited new legislation to be unveiled as early as next week, The Canadian Press has learned.
Sources, who aren't authorized to speak publicly about the imminent bill, say it won't adopt some of the most controversial recommendations from a special parliamentary committee.
That committee urged the government in February to place few obstacles in front Canadians who want medical help to end their suffering.
The legislation, likely to be introduced late next week, is expected to stipulate that only competent adults should be eligible to receive a doctor's help to end their lives.
It will not allow people diagnosed with competence-impairing conditions like dementia to make advance requests for medical help to die, which the committee advocated.
Nor will it include mature minors, to whom the committee recommended extending the right to choose assisted death within three years.
In rejecting those recommendations, the government appears to be sticking to the strict letter of a Supreme Court ruling, which concluded last year that Canada's ban on assisted suicide violates the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The court gave the federal government until Feb. 6, 2016, — later extended to June 6 — to come up with a new law that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.
The Supreme Court concluded last year that Canada's ban on assisted suicide violates the right to life, liberty and security of the person. (The Canadian Press)
The parliamentary committee, by contrast, tried to encompass what Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the committee chair, described as the "spirit" of the court ruling, anticipating future charter challenges that could arise if the new law is too restrictive.
On that score, the committee concluded that denying those with dementia the right to make advance directives would mean leaving them "to suffer or end their lives prematurely" while still sufficiently competent to consent.
"This situation was exactly what the (Supreme Court) decision sought to avoid," the committee's final report said.
Similarly, the committee noted that the top court has already recognized the right of mature minors to make some end-of-life decisions and expressed concern that denying them the right to medically assisted death would violate their charter rights.
The committee also recommended that a new law should apply to Canadians enduring intolerable suffering from grievous and irremediable medical conditions, including terminal and non-terminal physical and psychological conditions.
Permissive approach criticized
The new law is expected to spell out more stringent eligibility criteria. Although sources say it will not require that an illness be terminal, the legislation is expected to be particularly cautious about psychological conditions.
Critics of the parliamentary committee's permissive approach, including Conservative MPs, have argued that people with mental illnesses are particularly vulnerable and need to be protected from coercion or making life-and-death choices while not competent. They've urged the government to require psychiatric assessments for anyone seeking a medically assisted death.
The federal legislation is also expected to affirm that doctors have the right to refuse to provide assisted death but it will leave it to the provinces to figure out how to ensure that doesn't leave some Canadians without access to the service.
The committee recommended that conscientious objectors be required to provide "effective" referral for patients to another doctor who would help them.
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Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year. The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241 that: "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. 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)
Sue Rodriguez, 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. 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. The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. 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.The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
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. Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: "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."(CP)