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Canadian PM Once Opposed to Assisted Suicide Now Working to Make it Legal

Department of Defense photo by Marvin Lynchard

Accompanied by his wife, Sophie Gre’goire-Trudeau, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, lays a wreath at the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. In honor of Prime Minister Trudeau official visit to the United States, The Prime Minister also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. (Department of Defense photo by Marvin Lynchard)

John Burger - published on 04/16/16 - updated on 06/07/17

Justin Trudeau hints that once the legislation is passed, more changes may be made

A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide throughout Canada is likely to pass, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party holds a strong majority in the House of Commons.

Trudeau introduced the legislation Thursday, restricting the practice to adults with serious illnesses, but hinting that changes to the system will be made once the bill is law, The New York Times reported.

The proposed law limits physician-assisted suicides to Canadians and legal residents. Those who opt to end their lives can do so by suicide with medication provided by their doctors or by having the doctors administer the dose. Family members will be allowed to assist in the process. The bill would not allow people to request assisted suicide before they develop a serious or terminal medical condition. Doctors will not be required to help people die, but they must refer patients to another physician if they have an objection to participating. Assisted suicide will only be permitted following assessments by two independent physicians.

The government has promised to further study the issue after the legislation is passed and may make changes to the system.

Trudeau is acting in response to Canada’s Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in February 2015 that it was unconstitutional to deny assisted suicide to consenting adults who had “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” that has brought on “suffering that is intolerable.” The previous government, led by Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party opposed physician-assisted suicide, failed to act within the one-year limit the court set for a bill to be introduced. After Trudeau came into power last fall, the Supreme Court extended its deadline until June.

Trudeau in early 2015 indicated that his position on assisted suicide was evolving. While he was still opposed to it, the final days leading up to the death of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had given him a different understanding of the matter.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which is based in Toronto, said it opposes giving anyone the power in law to cause the death of another person.

“We oppose any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide,” the coalition said in a statement Thursday.

Coalition leader Dr. Will Johnston added that defining euthanasia as health care would mean that lethal injections become a form of medical treatment.

“Not only is this an Orwellian concept but may leave Canadians without a safe space within the health care system,” Johnston commented.

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton said the legislation would make legally acceptable in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life.

“It is deeply worrisome to see law thus separate itself from a fundamental moral norm,” Archbishop Smith said in a statement. “This legislative step introduces into law the chilling message that some lives are less worth living than others.”

Wesley J. Smith, on his Human Exceptionalism blog, called the new euthanasia bill “the most radical in the world.”

“Since the death doctor need not be present at the demise, the bill creates an unprecedented license for family members, friends — heck, a guy down the street — to make people dead,” Smith wrote. He said that there is no provision to allow authorities to know that actual consent was made by the patient.

“Canada has just paved the way for a person hungry for an inheritance or ideologically predisposed to get away with the perfect murder.”

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