Canada’s controversial assisted suicide measure had barely passed Parliament when national leaders discussed the possibility of expanding it to allow doctor-assisted death for minors and the mentally ill.
In February 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court had ruled that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable suffering to kill themselves. It ordered Parliament to create a legislative response.
That response came in the form of a bill passed in the Canadian Senate by a vote of 44-28 June 17. Its scope is somewhat narrower than the court mandate in that it allows assisted suicide only for those facing imminent death, Reuters reports.
Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a joint statement said the legislation was balanced. They said there will be further study of medical assistance in dying for “mature minors” and those for whom mental illness is the only underlying condition.
Previously, Canadian law punished those who counseled, aided, or abetted a suicide with up to 14 years in prison.
The law had met with strong opposition from disability-rights groups who say that it unfairly targets those who are most vulnerable in society and has high potential for abuse.
Opponents also argued that the law would send a social message that suicide is an acceptable way to handle pain and suffering. Other nations that have legalized the practice have found numerous cases of abuse, with lethal medication falling into the wrong hands and doctors or family members exerting undue pressure on patients to kill themselves.
In addition, concerns surfaced over conscience rights and whether doctors would be forced to aid in killing patients against their beliefs.
During debate over the law, Canadian senators had attempted to expand the scope of those qualified for doctor-assisted death to include those who are not necessarily near death, but have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition.” However, the House of Commons rejected it and the Senate rejected it by a vote of 42-28, CBC News reports.
In their statement, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould’s said the legislation “strikes the right balance between personal autonomy for those seeking access to medically assisted dying and protecting the vulnerable.”
In April, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto said the introduction of assisted suicide legislation was “a sad day for Canada.”
“The fundamental move towards implementing euthanasia or assisted suicide is itself troubling,” he told CNA.
The cardinal said Catholics should strongly encourage palliative care for those in severe pain and for the terminally ill. This — not suicide — is true medical assistance, he maintained.
Religious opponents of the legislation included Evangelical Protestants, Jews, Muslims and the Salvation Army.
Other opponents included the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Quebec grassroots organizations Living with Dignity, the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, and members of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet.
In October 2015, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint declaration against euthanasia and assisted suicide with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
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