OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will allow people with incurable illness or disability to end their lives with a doctor’s help but stopped short of extending the right to minors and the mentally ill, according to draft legislation introduced on Thursday.
The law applies only to Canadians and residents in the country, preventing foreigners from traveling there for euthanasia.
The law, to be voted on by June, is expected to pass as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have a majority in Parliament.
The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide last year, saying willing adults facing intolerable physical or psychological suffering from a severe and incurable medical condition had the right to die.
Some right-to-die advocates criticized the draft law as being too narrow and experts said it could face a court challenge.
The Supreme Court gave the new government 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 reporters. “The plan we have put forward is one that respects Canadians’ choices while putting in place the kinds of safeguards needed.”
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.
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. The waiting period could be shortened if loss of capacity was imminent.
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, allow for advance requests and eventually be extended to minors who are able to make their medical decisions. The government said those issues, which would have given Canada one of the broadest mandates in the world, needed more study.
Advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada criticized the law for being too narrow, saying it was not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision.
The government said it would not require its legislators to back the law and Health Minister Jane Philpott said no doctor will be required to provide assisted suicide.
“We also heard loud and clear the importance of recognizing conscience rights of healthcare providers, providers who may choose to refuse to provide medical assistance in dying for personal reasons or personal convictions,” Philpott said.
Jeff Blackmer, vice president of medical ethics at the Canadian Medical Association, welcomed the government’s middle-ground approach but said court challenges were “inevitable”.
French-speaking Quebec put its own law into effect in December and at least one person has carried out an assisted suicide in the province since then.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish