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Assisted Suicide Bill on the Table… Again

Yet another physician-assisted suicide bill has been introduced into government. Similar private member’s bills have been introduced in the past but have never succeeded.

The bill was introduced into the Senate of Canada on December 2, 2014.

If passed, Bill S-255 would amend section 14 of the Criminal Code, which states that people are not allowed to consent to have death inflicted on them. That section would be amended to permit a person to consent to voluntary euthanasia by making a request for physician-assisted death. It also clarifies that the death would not be considered culpable homicide.

Section 241 would also be replaced. That section currently prohibits anyone from counseling a person to commit suicide, or aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide. It would state that a physician is not guilty of an offence under section 241 if certain conditions and requirements are met, such as:

The person requesting physician-assisted suicide mustbe at least 18 years of agebe a Canadian citizen or permanent residentbe of sound mind and capable of fully understanding specific information provided to him or her regarding his or her diagnosis, prognosis, feasible alternatives to treatment, etc.be acting voluntarily, free from coercion or undue influencehave been diagnosed by a physician as having an illness, disease or disability thatcauses the person physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to that person and that cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person, orresults in the person being in a state of weakening capacities with no chance of improvement

Requests would be revocable. At least 14 days would have to pass between the time the request is finalized and the time the request is carried out. The physician assisting with the death would have to offer the person an opportunity to revoke the request immediately before carrying out the request.

It is noteworthy that there is not a requirement that the person requesting euthanasia have a terminal illness (a common requirement in other jurisdictions that permit euthanasia). Many opponents of legalizing assisted suicide are concerned that people with disabilities would be at particular risk. The Bill lacks stringent checks and balances, such as requiring multiple requests, referring the patient for counseling and recommending the patient notify the next of kin. The Bill appears to be missing much of the substance that would be necessary to truly protect individuals’ rights if it were to go forward.

A few months ago Quebec attempted to legalize assisted suicide. Although Bill 52 passed, it remains unclear whether Quebec actually has the legislative authority to create the law in the first place.

This Bill is significant because, unlike Quebec, the federal government does in fact clearly have the power to amend Canada’s criminal laws. As well, assisted suicide is a topical discussion as the issue is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case (discussed further here).

It is likely that there will be significant opposition to the Bill. Assisted suicide is a topic with very polarized viewpoints.

However, if history repeats itself, the Bill will receive some debate and media attention, but eventually die on the order paper due to election or be defeated due to lack of support. Updates will be provided here as they arise.

 

Lisa Feldstein Law Office provides advice to individuals and their families about end-of-life decision-making including situations involve consenting or refusing to consent to withdrawal of life support.

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