Rare Disease Report

Physician Assisted Suicide Bill Passes Senate in Canada

JUNE 18, 2016
James Radke, PhD
The Canadian Senate voted 44-28 in favor of Bill C-14 that would make physician assisted suicide legal in Canada.
The only remaining step will be the Governor General of Canada signing it into law.  
The enactment amends the Criminal Code to permit medical practitioners and nurse practitioners to provide medical assistance in dying and to permit pharmacists and other persons to assist in the process.
In order for a patient to eligible for physician assisted suicide, they must meet the following criteria:
  • they are eligible — or, but for any applicable minimum period of residence or waiting period, would be eligible — for health services funded by a government in Canada;
  • they are at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health;
  • they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;
  • they have made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure; and
  • they give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying.
A person is considered to have a a grievous and irremediable medical condition only if they meet all of the following criteria:
  • they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability;
  • they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability;
  • that illness, disease or disability or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable; and
  • their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances, without a prognosis necessarily having been made as to the specific length of time that they have remaining.

Not Terminal Patients Need Not Apply

While the bill is a welcome addition to those suffering incurable diseases, there are some who believe the new law is too restrictive with regard to the criteria that the person’s natural death is reasonably foreseeable.
One Canadian Senator who wanted the natural death has become reasonably foreseeable’ criteria removed was Senator Andre Pratte who said “I am convinced the government is making a serious and cruel mistake by taking away the right to medically assisted dying from a group of patients, those who are not terminally ill and yet suffering terrible.”

Senator Pratte added,  “But the government will answer to the people for that error and hopefully in the not too distant future the courts will remedy that mistake ... I believe we have worked well and done all that we could to warn the government of its error.”

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