[JURIST] Canada’s Liberal government said Thursday that it would strike an amendment expanding the definition of who may seek physician-assisted suicide. The bill [bill, PDF], which was passed Wednesday by the Senate [official website], would allow individuals that are not terminally ill to seek physician-assisted death. Current legislation only extends this right to terminally ill patients or those who face “reasonably foreseeable” death. Canada’s Health Minister, Jane Philpott, stated [WSJ report] that the amendments were “not appropriate at this time,” particularly because they would put certain disadvantaged groups, like the elderly and disabled, at heightened risk. The current contentious atmosphere surrounding the bill follows in the wake of a Canadian Supreme Court ruling [judgment, PDF], in which the court held that individuals with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions had a constitutional right to physician-assisted death, but did not provide a more detailed framework for determining which individuals fall within this category.
The aid-in-dying movement has garnered substantial legal debate around the world in the past few years. In the US, four states currently have legislation that allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to some patients: California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In Montana the state’s highest court has ruled that assisted suicide is not explicitly banned [JURIST report] by state law or public policy, meaning consent could be raised as a defense in a potential prosecution of a physician. Last June the European Court of Human Rights [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a French court’s decision allowing Vincent Lambert the right to die, stating it did not violate article 2 of European Convention on Human Rights. In May 2015 a Dutch court acquitted [JURIST report] a man of all criminal charges for assisting his 99-year-old mother in committing suicide. Also that month, an 84-year old attorney, businessman and political candidate filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in Tennessee challenging a law that makes it a felony for a doctor or another person to help someone commit suicide.