Canada‘s Liberal government on Thursday unveiled draft legislation on doctor-assisted suicide which would apply to adults suffering incurable illness or disability but stopped short of extending it to minors or the mentally ill for now.
Legislators will vote on the draft law, which applies only to Canadians and residents in the country, by June 6.
The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide last year but gave the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extra time to pass legislation, adding Canada to the handful of Western countries that allow the practice.
Trudeau, whose father declined treatment for cancer before his 2000 death, said Canadians were “extremely seized with this issue.”
“It’s a deeply personal issue that affects all of us and our families and all of us individually as we approach the end of our lives,” he told a news conference in London, Ontario.
“The plan we have put forward is one that respects Canadians’ choices while putting in place the kinds of safeguards needed.”
Under the law, patients would have to make a written request for medical assistance in dying or have a designated person do so if they are unable. There would be a mandatory waiting period of at least 15 days in many cases, and patients would be able to withdraw a request at any time.
Patients would also have to be experiencing “enduring and intolerable suffering” and death would have to be reasonably foreseeable. Only those eligible for Canadian health services are eligible, eliminating the prospect of “suicide tourism”.
The government did not adopt suggestions from a parliamentary committee which had suggested the law should also apply to those who suffer only from mental illness, or those who put forward advance requests. It said those issues needed more study.
“We have more work to do in the coming years to look at different aspects that weren’t in this particular piece of legislation,” Trudeau said.
Polls show physician-assisted suicide has broad support in Canada but the issue has divided politicians in Parliament as they grapple with how to protect vulnerable Canadians while respecting their rights and choices at the end of life.
The Liberals will allow a free vote on the issue and not require its legislators to back it.
In December, a Quebec court ruled the province can implement Canada‘s first law permitting physician-assisted suicide while the federal government decides on a framework for how to handle the issue.