by Katie Daniels
On April 14, the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, introduced new legislation that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide for citizens suffering from “serious and incurable illness” which has caused them “physical or psychological suffering.”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, used Trudeau’s new legislation as an occasion to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s staunch opposition to any form of assisted death. “It changes our approach to human life, it changes our approach to human society,” Cardinal Collins said in an interview.
In a nod to Switzerland’s rise in “medical tourism,” Canada’s law would limit doctor-assisted suicide to Canadian citizens and residents eligible for the national health care system. The country wants to avoid dying people from other countries crossing the border for the procedure, a common practice in Switzerland, where doctor-assisted suicide has been legal since 1940.
Under Trudeau’s proposed law, doctors or nurse practitioners can administer death-inducing medication to consenting adults who have serious medical conditions and are “capable of making decisions with respect to their health.” A doctor must also decide that “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.” Social workers and pharmacists, as well as family and friends, are all legally allowed to assist patients with the process.
“For some, medical assistance in dying will be troubling,” the Canadian justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said at a news conference. “For others, this legislation will not go far enough.”
Trudeau’s proposal does include some restrictions. For example, it contains no provisions for minors to choose to end their lives, nor does it allow people in early stages of dementia to request assisted suicide while they are still competent. Before ending his or her life, the patient must wait 15 days after receiving approval from two different doctors. Physicians are not required by law to help people die. However, if a doctor objects to participating, they are required to refer their patient to a new doctor.
Dr. Brett Belchetz, a doctor with the advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada, argued that, “This law actually pits me against medical ethics. There are a number of shortfalls and I do think the legislation requires an urgent rethink.”
The Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, also commented on the moral implications of assisted suicide. “From not only a Catholic perspective but any rational perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong.” He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that, “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”
Prime Minister Trudeau had supported a law that would allow for doctor-assisted deaths before he became prime minister. He says his position is informed by the final days of his father’s life. Trudeau’s father and a former prime minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau died in 2000 after he declined treatment for advanced prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.