Recommendations rejectedThe 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.
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 criticizedThe 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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