02/18/2015 01:16 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Justin Trudeau: Assisted Suicide Debate Must Start Right Away

OTTAWA - The Conservative government should immediately launch a comprehensive national debate about doctor-assisted suicide in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court decision, the federal Liberal leader says.

Justin Trudeau called on the Harper government to get talks started in order to take full advantage of the one-year grace period the high court provided when it opened the door to the controversial practice earlier this month.

"The Supreme Court has tasked us with the job of doing our job as legislators," Trudeau said Wednesday after a Liberal caucus meeting.

"I think it's important that we do that."

Two weeks ago, the high court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to patients who are mentally competent but suffering "irremediable" ailments.

However, the court suspended its judgment, giving Parliament a year to introduce legislation recognizing the right of consenting adults with intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.

That doesn't leave much time to come up with a new law, said Trudeau — especially given the strong views held on both sides of what he acknowledged is a divisive and passionate debate.

"This is something that is important for Canadians on a personal level."

Trudeau put the issue to Stephen Harper during question period Wednesday, and the prime minister acknowledged the complexity of the issue, even if he was non-committal on the way forward.

"It is clear that this is a sensitive issue for many Canadians, and deep convictions are held on both sides," he said in French.

"We will study the decision and will hold extensive consultations on all points of view associated with this difficult issue."

At least six reform bills on right-to-die issues have been defeated over the past two decades. Last fall, the Conservatives declared they would not support changing the status quo.

Some groups have condemned the Supreme Court ruling, warning that legalizing euthanasia could have far-reaching consequences, particularly for vulnerable Canadians.

In fact, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said the concerns of advocates for the disabled will be paramount for him as the government reviews the court's decision.

Others have applauded the decision, saying it's about time that certain people under particular circumstances were given a say in when and how their lives should end.

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